Seminal Books on Online Learning

Monty Jones at VCU emailed several of us today with an interesting thought query from Brianne Adams:

What are the seminal texts in online education?  Given how fast the field has evolved, are there any?

I have been evolved with online education for two decades, and along the way, there were books that had a huge impact on me, so I do believe there are “seminal texts.”  They were not the first books on online teaching and learning, but they were five books that stay in my mind.

book_palloffThe first book that really impacted my teaching online was the 2007 Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom by Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt.  I had read several “how-to” books like Susan Ko’s Teaching Online: A Practical Guide (now in its Third Edition), but Rena and Keith’s book solidified for me the learning community aspect of elearning.  I had just shifted from directing an online program at Gwinnett Tech (and teaching several business management classes) to faculty development at VCU’s Center for Teaching Excellence, so Rena and Keith’s book hit at just the right moment for me.

Using case studies, vignettes, and examples from successful online courses, Rena and Keith provided a mix of theory and practical ways to handle challenges such as engaging students to build an online learning community, establishing a sense of presence online, maximizing participation, increasing collaboration and reflection, and effectively assessing student performance.  During the four years in which I coordinated VCU’s Online Course Development Initiative, this was the book we gave all participants.

book_AndersonThe second book that comes to mind is Terry Anderson’s 2009 The Theory and Practice of Online Learning (2nd Edition).  This edited collection of chapters on theory, design, and support of online learning provides background and context around the Community of Inquiry framework, which Anderson and others developed. The Community of Inquiry framework was developed during a Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities research funded project which ran from 1997 to 2001. The framework focused on the social, technological, and pedagogic processes that could lead to collaborative knowledge construction in online learning environments. This framework was extensively researched over the past 15 years, exploring the three forms of ‘‘presence” -teaching, social, and cognitive presence.

I used Terry’s book as my textbook in my hybrid course on the Theory of Online Learning that I taught for VCU.  The second edition brought in the concept of connectivism as a theory, as well as the use of social media for networked learning.

The third book builds on this framework of the Community of Inquiry.

Garrison bookRandy Garrison, another contributor to the CoI, published his second edition of E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework For Research and Practice in 2010. Randy synthesized a decade of research into the Community of Inquiry model for online learning.  Our CTE team spent a semester reviewing this book and related research around the Community of Inquiry, such as an article by Karen Swan, Randy Garrison, and Jennifer Richardson in 2009 – “A Constructivist Approach to Online Learning: The Community of Inquiry Framework.” The CoI factored in to the design of VCU’s Preparing to Teach Online course back in the last decade, as well as their year-long Online Course Development Initiative.  From Randy’s perspective, learning is shaped by a collaborative constructivist view, with discourse inseparable from critical thinking.  Critical thinking is both highly individualistic and shared…we co-construct our knowledge with others.  This connected learner framework has certainly informed the design of my courses.

One aspect of Randy’s book I like is the holistic look at the interplay of all three presences together.  Not only does the influences shift between them, but they also shift over time within a course and beyond a course.  The “learning” might kick in two to three courses later as continued integration and resolution occur.

Clark Mayer bookMy fourth “go to” book is by Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer, who in 2011 published the Third Edition of E-Learning and the Science of Instruction.  This book not only looks at the science of learning, but it brings in Richard Mayer’s concepts of dual channel learning with multimedia.  Mayer has researched how our minds process information from both visual and audio channels.  He found that students learn better when material is presented with both words and images, when information is provided in smaller chunks to prevent cognitive overload, when words and images are integrated within a presentation, and when information is presented in a conversational style.  His work has informed much of our Online Course Design Orientation Program here at Northeastern University.

minds_online2My final go-to book is a recent addition that I have blogged about before – Michelle Miller’s 2014 Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology.  Michelle’s book is one of the first books to tie what we know about how people learn to online learning.  I am currently using this book as the textbook in my latest online course – EDU 6323: Technology as a Medium for Learning.

There are a ton of other books and articles out on aspects of elearning (such as Tisha Bender’s (2012) Discussion-Based Online Teaching to Enhance Student Learning), but the five above are my go to volumes.  This is also does not begin to scratch the surface of books on learning science, such as Susan Ambrose’s How Learning Works.

It would be interesting to hear from you as to what you consider seminal works.  What would you add to this list?



Attention, Cognition, and Online Learning

Twitter-AttentionLast week, I began discussing Michelle Miller’s new book, Minds Online: Teaching Effectively With Technology.  In my post, “Cognitively Optimized Online Course,” I reviewed the first three chapters on online learning, how it works, and the psychology of computing.  In this post, I look at the fourth chapter, on attention.

Sooo … has the cute picture of the little dog grabbed your attention?

And in doing so, have I sidetracked our exploration of attention?

Michelle’s chapter begins with an exploration of the Stroop Effect, and how easy it is to derail attention.

StroopThe link above takes you to a simple task of speaking two sets of words, with the caveat that you speak the color, not the printed word.  It took me about 50% longer to complete Set #2 over Set #1, because my mind kept focusing on the mismatch between the printed word and the color.  Michelle noted that you cannot separate cognition from the mechanisms we use to allocate our cognitive resources…so paying attention to paying attention is important in online course design.

Yet, attention can easily be shifted.  The message ding on our phone pulls us away from the computer screen.  Images in our lessons that do not align with the task impact our attention.

We also have limitations, including inattentional blindness when we focus.  It goes back 8 years ago, but I used the video below as an example of inattentional blindness during a job interview.

As Michelle noted:

“The inattentional blindness effect illustrates a broader truth about human perception and attention, that looking and seeing are two different things – and that we are remarkably prone to missing stimuli when our attention is directed elsewhere.”

… as “The Invisible Gorilla” showed.

While capacity cannot be expanded, it can be altered by practice. Actions that become automatic free up the brain to process other information.  Michelle is quick to note that practice does not mean we can actually multitask…we just think that we can.

Attention is highly intertwined with visual processing, which is another facet of online course design that matters.  She describes change blindness, in which changes to the screen are not picked up readily.  Most people think they perceive more change than they really do.

 Working memory is an area of significant variation among individuals.  Michelle noted that attention directs what goes in to working memory, so again, understanding attention is important to creating a learning environment.

minds_online2Michelle suggested several strategies regarding attention and online learning.

  • Ask students to respond
    • Chunk material into short segments and have students do something (answer a question, click on a hotspot, etc)
  • Take advantage of automaticity
    • Use auto-grading features of LMS’s to provide practice opportunities and feedback, with incentives for completion
  • Assess Cognitive Load
    • You really can do little to impact the cognitive demands of the topic or the individual, but you can impact cognitive load by design features.  Poor instructions or requiring new features without practice can negatively increase cognitive load.
  • Discourage Divided Attention
    • The web is full of distractions, but simply informing students that they should pay attention actually increases attention.

The chapter on attention suggests that educating students about multitasking, making materials as seamless as possible, minimizing extraneous attention drains, and keeping them engaged through compelling activities – these will help with learning in online classes.

From attention, Michelle moves to memory – my next post.

{Graphic: Social Caffeine }


A New Center and A New Seven

How Learning WorksI am excited to be headed to Boston next month to join the Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research at Northeastern University.  CATLR, led by Cigdem  Talgar, was formed by Senior Vice Provost Susan Ambrose, lead author of How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching.  Each member of CATLR works with faculty to explore ways to enhance learning that are firmly grounded in the learning sciences.  I am definitely joining a quality team … and “team” is relevant, as this appears to be a highly collaborative group.

I cannot wait!

During the interview process, several members brought up the white paper that Jeff Nugent, Bud Deihl and I co-wrote back in 2009:  Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning.  In the white paper, we wanted to state unequivocally that teaching online involved much more than simply posting content online.  I still think that is true, even given the rise in MOOCs over the past five years.  To make our case, we noted the amazing growth of open content (i.e., the content was already posted online).  We then noted:

“In reviewing the literature, many suggest that the while the content and the learning outcomes are the same, the manner in which that content is delivered and the interactions with students are quite different. Ko and Rosen (2008) suggest that developing an online course starts at the same place where one develops a face-to-face course. One sets the goals for the course, describes the specific learning objectives, defines the tasks necessary to meet those objectives, and then creates applicable assignments around these tasks. The fundamentals are the same, the technique is very different. So in many ways, the design of an online course mirrors the design of a face-to-face course. Both have clear learning objectives. Assessment of learning is critical in both. Yet the fundamental practices for delivering the instruction and facilitating learner interaction are quite different.”

To illustrate these differences, we used a series of vignettes based on Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice for Undergraduate Education.   Chickering and Gamson synthesized fifty years of research and developed the following seven principles that they viewed as core to effective teaching:

7 Principles

  1. Good Practice Encourages Student-Faculty Contact
  2. Good Practice Encourages Cooperation among Students
  3. Good Practice Encourages Active Learning
  4. Good Practice Gives Prompt Feedback
  5. Good Practice Emphasizes Time on Task
  6. Good Practice Communicates High Expectations
  7. Good Practice Respects Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning

Many others have coupled the Seven Principles with online teaching, such as in Chickering and Ehrmann’s Technology as Lever article or the recent Faculty Focus article by Dreon.  As I move to CATLR, I have been thinking differently.  I have been reflecting on recasting our white paper using the seven research-based principles described in Susan Ambrose’s book:

  1. Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.
  2. How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know.
  3. Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn.
  4. To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned.
  5. Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning.
  6. Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.
  7. To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning.

In many ways, these are “Seven Principles Two Point Oh”.  🙂  The Chickering and Gamson Seven focused on good teaching.  The Ambrose Seven focus on good learning – a neat shift.

Prior Knowledge

The online environment offers the opportunity to tailor learning based on what each student brings to the course.  If prior knowledge is activated, sufficient, appropriate, and accurate (not always givens), then learning can be enhanced.  To do this, some form of assessment is needed to gauge and surface prior knowledge as part of the online learning process.

Knowledge Organization

This principle recognizes that novices and experts approach learning in different ways.  If one approaches online learning from a constructivist and connectivist view, then strategies should be applied that help students collaboratively build connections with the concepts they are learning, teaming experts and novices.  Online concept mapping exercises are a neat way to move this forward.


Ambrose discusses the interconnections between a supportive environment, student efficacy, and the value of a learning goal – and these align with the earlier Seven Principle on High Expectations.   Passion for the subject and surfacing the relevance of the learning go a long way to increasing student motivation.  Empowering students to connect learning to their own passions and relevant interests applies here as well.

Mastery / Goal-Directed Practice with Feedback

In his book, The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests the “10,000-Hour Rule” – that greatness requires the investment of time and practice.  In a normal semester online course, one does not have thousands of hours, but the concept of practice to develop skills is important.  I coupled two of Ambrose’s principles here, because they are aligned.  Goal-directed feedback coupled with timely formative and summative feedback helps mastery.  It also might suggest connections between courses so that mastery grows over time across programs.

Social, Emotional, and Intellectual Climate

Every online class that I have taught has a unique personality.  As the faculty teaching, I have a lot to do with the tone set for a class.  The same is true for anyone teaching.  Our role is be proactive about climate.  Our students need safe places to try and safely fail, and then try and succeed.  We need to ensure that no students feel marginalized.  For me, this is a huge reason that my own social presence as the faculty member is so necessary in an online class.

Self-Directed Learners

Self-directed learners think about their own thinking.  Ambrose describes a metacognitive process in which students assess tasks, evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses, plan their approaches, monitor their performance, and adjust as necessary.  One of the best examples of faculty developing his students is in the blog journal of my colleague, Enoch Hale.  In “Visualizing Our Intellectual Journey,” Enoch describes his efforts “…to track their intellectual journeys in clear, explicit and visual ways: then, now and into the future.”

So, I am excited to be moving to Boston and joining a high energy team!  And I am excited to explore learning through a new set of lens provided by Susan’s book!


30 Day Challenge – Day 12 – Serious eLearning, Seriously?

In the Online Learning Insights weekly news this morning, there is a review of the Serious eLearning Manifesto, released last week by four e-learning “instigators.”

Serious eLearning Manifesto

These instigators suggest that most elearning is broken, and that a new set of standards are required to raise elearning to its potential.  Quoting from the manifesto:

Supporting Principles

1.  Do Not Assume that Learning is the Solution
– We do not assume that a learning intervention is always the best means to helping people perform better.

2. Do Not Assume that eLearning is the Answer
– When learning is required, we do not assume that elearning is the only (or the best) solution.

3. Tie Learning to Performance Goals
– We will couple the skills we are developing to the goals of organizations, individuals, or both.

4. Target Improved Performance
–  We will help our learners achieve performance excellence; enabling them to have improved abilities, skills, confidence, and readiness to perform.

5. Provide Realistic Practice
–  We will provide learners sufficient levels of realistic practice; for example, simulations, scenario-based decision making, case-based evaluations, and authentic exercises.

6.  Enlist Authentic Contexts
–  We will provide learners with sufficient experience in making decisions in authentic contexts.

7.  Provide Guidance and Feedback
–  We will provide learners with guidance and feedback to correct their misconceptions, reinforce their comprehension, and build effective performance skills.

8.  Provide Realistic Consequences
–  When providing performance feedback during learning, we will provide learners with a sense of the real-world consequences.

9.  Adapt to Learner Needs
We can and should utilize elearning’s capability to create learning environments that are flexible or adaptive to learner needs.

10. Motivate Meaningful Involvement
– We will provide learners with learning experiences that are relevant to their current goals and/or that motivate them to engage deeply in the process of learning.

11. Aim for Long-term Impact
– We will create learning experiences that have long-term impact–well beyond the end of instructional events–to times when the learning is needed for performance.

12. Use Interactivity to Prompt Deep Engagement
–  We will use elearning’s unique interactive capabilities to support reflection, application, rehearsal, elaboration, contextualization, debate, evaluation, synthesization, et cetera—not just in navigation, page turning, rollovers, and information search.

13.  Provide Support for Post-Training Follow-Through
–  We will support instruction with the appropriate mix of after-training follow-through, providing learning events that: reinforce key learning points, marshal supervisory and management support for learning application, and create mechanisms that enable further on-the-job learning.

14.  Diagnose Root Causes
–  When given training requests, we will determine whether training is likely to produce benefits and whether other factors should be targeted for improvement. We will also endeavor to be proactive in assessing organizational performance factors–not waiting for requests from organizational stakeholders.

15.  Use Performance Support
–  We will consider providing job aids, checklists, wizards, sidekicks, planners, and other performance support tools in addition to–and as a potential replacement for–standard elearning interactions.

16.  Measure Effectiveness
–  Good learning cannot be assured without measurement, which includes the following:

a. Measure Outcomes
Ideally, we will measure whether the learning has led to benefits for the individual and/or the

b. Measure Actual Performance Results
Ideally, an appropriate time after the learning (for example, two to six weeks later), we will measure whether the learner has applied the learning, the level of success, the success factors and obstacles encountered, and the level of supervisor support where warranted.

c. Measure Learning Comprehension and Decision Making During Learning
At a minimum, during the learning, we will measure both learner comprehension and decision-making ability. Ideally, we would also measure these at least a week after the learning.

d. Measure Meaningful Learner Perceptions
When we measure learners’ perceptions, we will measure their perceptions of the following: their ability to apply what they’ve learned, their level of motivation, and the support they will receive in implementing the learning.

17.  Iterate in Design, Development, and Deployment
–  We won’t assume that our first pass is right, but we will evaluate and refine until we have achieved our design goals.

18.  Support Performance Preparation
–  We will prepare learners during the elearning event to be motivated to apply what they’ve learned, inoculated against obstacles, and prepared to deal with specific situations.

19.  Support Learner Understanding with Conceptual Models
–  We believe that performance should be based upon conceptual models to guide decisions, and that such models should be presented, linked to steps in examples, practiced with, and used in feedback.

20.  Use Rich Examples and Counterexamples
–  We will present examples and counterexamples, together with the underlying thinking.

21.  Enable Learners to Learn from Mistakes
–  Failure is an option. We will, where appropriate, let learners make mistakes so they can learn from them. In addition, where appropriate, we will model mistake-making and mistake-fixing.

22.  Respect Learners
–  We will acknowledge and leverage the knowledge and skills learners bring to the learning environment through their past experience and individual contexts.

We acknowledge that this is an important but not exhaustive list, and further, that the ideas embedded in this list were drawn from, and inspired by, the work and research of many.”

This manifesto seems geared towards corporate elearning more than online learning in higher education, yet there are portions in here with which I agree.  As the graphic above suggests, too many have attempted to replicate the large lecture hall experience with the online experience, leading to course designs that are content focused, efficient for the faculty, attendence-driven (read “seat time”), focused on knowledge delivery rather than authentic learning, and one-size fits all.  So I agree with the manifesto’s call for making elearning meaningful for learners, authentic, relevant, and individualized.

Community of InquiryIn many ways, these “principles” align with Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles of Good Practice.  Where I would differ from these instigators is an underlying assumption that “the learner” is isolated.  There is nothing about building a community of practice within this manifesto.  If the web is open, social and participatory…and if the future for our students requires cooperation and collaboration, then it would seem that aspects of a community of inquiry should appear in this manifesto.

Yet, I like Stephen Downes’ take on this in Monday’s OLDaily.  Stephen said:

“…Basically the manifesto emphasizes “continuous assessment of learner performance” in order to “optimize use of the learner’s time, individualize the experience for full engagement, address needs, optimize practice, and prepare for transfer of learning to performance proficiency.” The manifesto is relentlessly provider-focused, which is unfortunate. If I were writing a manifesto it would be more about making my profession unnecessary, so that people wouldn’t need specially designed materials in order to learn, but rather, could forge learning out of raw materials for themselves.”

Which leads to today’s 30-Day Challenge question:

Day 12 – How can I as faculty make myself unnecessary?

This is not to suggest that I am planning on quitting my day job.  Rather, it is a reminder to focus on student’s learning rather than on delivering content.  As my colleague Jeff Nugent reminds us:

“You deliver pizzas, not learning.”


{Graphics: elearningmanifesto, Athabasca University}


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Kicking Discussions Up A Notch

emerilEmeril Lagasse is always suggesting that when cooking you need to “kick it up another notch!”

The same could be said about online discussions.

After a couple of weeks tied up in faculty search interviews and conferences, our Center for Teaching Excellence study group on Community of Inquiry got back together Thursday, and we had a great session on the topic of online discussions. Our focus was centered on two articles we had read:

We continue to circle around the notion of cognitive presence within an online class.  As we have reviewed Garrison’s book, E-Learning in the 21st Century, and articles such as these two, it continues to be clear that a large number of online faculty equate engagement online with online discussions.  My online courses that I teach are discussion based…whether that discussion is in discussion boards, wiki discussions, or increasingly these days, blogs.  One of my go-to books for myself or for when working with faculty is Tisha Bender’s Discussion Based Online Teaching to Enhance Student Learning: Theory, Practice and Assessment.  Tisha rightly notes that online education does not consist of throwing the technology of the day at students and telling them to go learn:

“…we can’t just throw technology at them and tell them to go ahead and use it without a well-defined rationale. And we can’t allow ourselves or our students to be lured by technologies that beckon us seemingly only because of the possibility of a new friendship. No, we need to carefully construct a new pedagogy, an adaptation of the old methods, so as to meaningfully engage students through digital technologies. (p. 66)”

Amen, Tisha!  I am a proponent of online discussions for engagement.

Yet, what is clear in the research is that discussions – left to their own devices – rarely lead to deep learning.

Garrison proposed the Practical Inquiry Model to build off Dewey’s work:

practical inquiry model

Practical Inquiry Model (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2001)

The two articles we reviewed today both had limited studies, but suggest that discussions were good at initiating trigger events and exploration, but were not necessarily effective at creating integration and resolution for students.  As Darabi et al noted in the abstract:

“… the literature indicates that the conventional approach to online discussion – asking probing questions – does not necessarily advance the discussion through the phases of cognitive presence: triggering events, exploration, integration and resolution, which are crucial for deep knowledge construction…the structured strategy, while highly associated with triggering events, produced no discussion pertaining to the resolution phase. The scaffolded strategy, on the other hand, showed a strong association with the resolution phase. The debate and role-play strategies were highly associated with exploration and integration phases. We concluded that discussion strategies requiring learners to take a perspective in an authentic scenario facilitate cognitive presence, and thus critical thinking and higher levels of learning. (p. 216)”

The earlier Wang and Chen article basically dismissed the notion of resolution occurring in discussions, suggesting that resolution would occur elsewhere in the course…or perhaps even in another course or later in life.  We were troubled by that notion.  Personally, if I develop learning outcomes for a module or a course, I would like to design the learning activities to assist students in reaching resolution for their learning.

I do agree with the premise of both of these articles that discussions – left to their own devices – will not naturally lead to deep learning.  That suggests that we have to be mindful of our use of discussions in online courses.  They are not a replication or replacement for classroom discussions.  Crafting good questions and then actively facilitating discussions can potentially lead to the deeper learning outcomes we each desire.

Wang and Chen suggested fairly extensive ground rules:

  • Start dates and Cut off dates
  • Minimal number of posts — You need to comment on at least two other groups.
  • Support your arguments with evidence (established theories, empirical data, thought experiments, etc.).
  • Keep one point per short message
  • If no one answers your posting, you can send invitations to three students for responses.
  • You are not allowed to post before the second deadline.
  • You are encouraged to build on existing ideas by quoting and paraphrasing other people’s messages.
  • You must always reply to comments to your posts
  • If you have nothing more to add, wrap it up nicely with a concise summary.

When Bill Pelz gave the keynote two years ago at our first Online Summit, he noted similar rules.  One of Bill’s rules that I always liked was a requirement that when a student replied to another student, they had to change the subject line to capture the essence of their thought.  You did not see (Re: blah blah) in his discussions – every thread and reply had a different subject line – a technique that could assist with critical thinking.

FBscreenSo, it is incumbent in faculty who use online discussions (no matter the venue) to consider their practice and how they might proactively facilitate the ongoing discussions such that students move beyond trigger events and exploration (to use Garrison language) and develop processes for thinking critically about the subject matter…whatever that might be.  To me, that also suggests that faculty must become more active in the discussions and move beyond counting posts and giving credit.  Discussions need to be carefully crafted to be relevant and authentic for students and faculty alike.  Rubrics for discussions should suggest processes (and grades) for analysis and synthesis of multiple postings as well as processes for metacognition – getting students to think about their thinking.

Online discussions are not replacements for in class discussions.  They actually can be so much more.  Our job as faculty is to kick them up a notch!

As always, push back and let me know if you have problems with my convoluted reasoning!  🙂

{Graphics: Mark Petruska, Garrison, Paul Walsh}


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Our Annual Online Teaching Institute

We just wrapped up our annual institute…a part of our year-long Online Course Development Initiative.  Again this year, we have 20 faculty who joined our eLearning Team this week at the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence to focus on teaching and what teaching means in an online environment.

O C D I Banner

During our final lunch, we all discussed what this week meant.  Many suggested that they came to the week expecting to learn about online courses, but left reconceptualizing teaching in general.  It was an intense forty-hour week, yet they left with more energy than they had the first day!  For that, I thank my team mates who once again made a huge difference.

I made good use of Prezi this week – here are five sessions I led:

Growth and Evolution of eLearning

[Un]Packing the LMS

How People Learn

Building Community

Choosing Digital Tools

All in all, a great week.  Now, the five of us in our eLearning team each have four faculty whom we will work with over the next year to develop and teach online classes!

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Starting the New Year Open

Happy New Year, everyone.  Welcome to 2013!  I have two “open” new years resolutions.

We have been talking about how the web has become increasingly open, social and participatory for the past four years…yet with the arrival of the MOOC bandwagon last year, “open” took on new significance.  So, as 2013 gets rolling, I and my CTE colleagues are exploring how “open” might change our teaching.

Again this spring, my colleagues Jeff Nugent, David McLeod, and myself will be facilitating a course in our Preparing Future Faculty program called “GRAD-602: Teaching, Learning and Technology.”  We should have 24 Ph.D candidates or post-docs working on their PFF certification.  As in previous years, we will take our students on an exploration of the social web and the integration of digital technology into teaching at the college level.  Our students will document their journey by blogging on the open web.  In past years, we have used the campus LMS – Blackboard – with links to their blogs in Netvibes.  This year as our first new practice (and resolution), we are moving our LMS to WordPress, so that we can invite the world to join in our weekly conversations.

So check out our website at – and if you or your grad students would like to blog with us and be added to our Netvibes page, let me know!

Two of my students from last summer completed MOOCs from Coursera over the fall, and their enthusiasm has prompted me to try one for myself.  So, as a second new years resolution in the world of open, I have enrolled in Coursera’s E-Learning and Digital Cultures class, to be taught by Jeremy Know, Sian Bayne, Hamish MacLeod, Jenn Ross and Christine Sinclair out of the University of Edinburgh.  The course starts January 28th, runs 5 weeks, and Jeremy tweeted last week that over 32,000 have enrolled so far.  I know that blogging will be a part of the course, and I will be using this blog to chronicle my learning for the course.

I enrolled in mid-December, and a small but very engaged subset of the 32K has already been active in Twitter, Facebook, and a host of other sites.  Sandra Sinfield blogged about this pre-course engagement…and listed the following links (the majority of which have been developed by fellow students, not Coursera or the instructors):

Quoting from Sandra -here are quick links:

Space to think & try some new ideas:
•           Keep a wish list with pictures on Pinterest
•          Join our QuadBlog experiment
•          Study Group for the course
•          Feel overwhelmed? Vent here
We can add ourselves to the
•           Google Map
•           Blog list and:
•           Read the rules
•           edcmooc course page
•           course members who themselves are tutors: Group page
Student room:
•         Facebook group
•         Twitter people on the course           (Course hashtag #edcmooc)
Tech Tools:
•           Tech tools for education
•           What’s your recipe?
Journals, articles and videos all related to this course, and to the wider field of MOOC’s and technology:
The library is online at Diigo; we can add ourselves to the group. Tag any link with edcmooc so it’s easier for us to search: Diigo
First question posted in our ‘classroom’:
Q: What is your definition of “Digital Culture” ?

Wow!  Thanks, Sandra, for creating this resource list!

Sandra mentioned that she was already feeling overwhelmed, and I understand that feeling.  My minimal connections over the holiday break resulted in numerous emails alerting me to FB Group postings and tweets … and this with approximately 150 of us diving in to the social media.  I am wondering if 32,000 (or even a percentage of 32K) will bring my system to its knees!  Obviously, I will be refining my filters and alert settings, but I have a feeling it will be continuous or nothing…this is going to be interesting to try and throttle.  And with the numbers in my Coursera course, will I miss any of the social media from my VCU students in GRAD 602?  I want to play in the sandbox and see what happens…but it will be an interesting spring to say the least!

If any of you who have taken a similar journey have tips and tricks for success, please comment to this post and share them!


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Wrapping Up Summer Course

It has been my privilege to teach the eight-week summer course, ADLT 640 – The Theory and Practice of eLearning – for the VCU School of Education Adult Learning program.  I blogged in late June and early July about teaching this course. Tonight, we wrap up the course with our final session.  Sonja’s comment in her blog this week sums up how several expressed themselves this past week:

When I decided to “check out” ADLT 640 and see what all “the fuss” was about behind “e-learning”, I had no idea how this eight-week summer course, would change and expand my perceptions of my learning environment from a four by four box into world without limits or borders.

I used a rather non-traditional hybrid approach to teaching this course.  We met face-to-face twice a week for the first two weeks, then met online for four weeks, and finally remet face-to-face for the final two weeks.  This meant that we met half of the time face-to-face and half online…though I suspect that my students will say they spent more than half of their time online.  The first two weeks were spent on the theory part of the course, and the month online was focused on the practice part.

Last week, I had the students complete a self-assessment of their mastery of the learning objectives of the course, on a scale of 1 (not confident) to 5 (very confident).  Of twenty-one learning objectives, sixteen averaged above 4 and the remaining five averaged between 3 and 4.  I believe that this confidence flows from the experience they had online.

You can check out the blog posts from the students at our Netvibes portal.  I collected all of their final posts to create this Wordle:

final blog post wordle

It is no accident that “learning” was the top word, but what struck me was how their mental model of learning had appeared to evolve.  One student mentioned in class Tuesday night her “Ah ha” moment of realizing that mobile learning had less to do with devices than it did the mobility of the learner.  In related ways, eLearning has come to mean less the tools and environment by which people connect so much as the connections themselves. Joanne noted in her blog:

Surely at this point in my life I had all the skills I needed in order to learn.  What I wasn’t taking into account, however, was that when you learn as a team, you get more context and meaning behind the terms and ideas.  You start to understand them from a number of perspectives, and that can increase the likelihood that you’ll retain that information and be able to apply it in more ways than just the situations you are familiar with yourself.

Sonja said:

 For me, e-learning is not just about participating in “online” classes.  It is how the user or participant uses not only the internet and the digital tools around them, but how connected the learner allows themselves to be to that information outside the typical or traditional education environment.

And Lindsey had a great observation:

What if the educational shift was focused on universities connecting to one another instead of competing as separate entities? Then, learning and progressing could be a shared endeavor rather than some being front-runners and others left behind. I’m not talking about one school endorsing the other like edx for open courseware. I’m talking about schools offering elearning classes with a more global approach. Each school would still continue to have its relative distinctions, but would collaboratively build more of a connected, global, ecommunity of academia.

One aspect of the class that the students all seemed to like was the collaborative building of a class library.  Each week, each student added a summary and citation to a simple Google Form, that collected their work together.  I bookmarked all of their articles in Diigo.

The 2-week on campus, 4-weeks online, 2-weeks on campus format worked well.  As Joanne noted:

Being back in class this past week solidified my (current) preference for a hybrid construction for classes.  Our four-week online module proved to me how much I can learn in an online environment and how much collaboration can exist without being face-to-face.  However, nothing in those four weeks came close to the rush I felt after two and a half hours of discussion in class on Tuesday and Thursday night.

These eight weeks have flown by, and I will be a little sad to see this class close out tonight.  It has been a positive experience for me as well, and I better understand now why the Department of Education‘s 2010 meta-analysis of eLearning suggested that a blended approach could achieve higher learning outcomes than either a purely online or purely on-campus class.  I think that the 2-4-2 approach I took worked well.  If I was going to go hybrid with a weekly class and weekly online, I suspect my design would be more of a flipped class.  The extended online segment I chose for this class really forced both myself and my students to grapple with the challenges and find the affordances that the online environment can provide.

And not to lose sight, my final two Prezi’s:

Session 6: Emerging Trends

Session 7: mLearning

ADLT640_Session7 on Prezi

My thanks again to some great students! You made this course a very positive experience for me!

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Peanut Butter, Mother Nature and eLearning

Last week my students in ADLT 640 learned some amazing lessons … including some that were not on the syllabus.

Online Banner for Week 3

ADLT 640 – The Theory and Practice of eLearning in Adult Environments – is an eight week summer course that starts a three-course track in the Adult Learning Masters program on teaching with technology.  We spent the first two weeks meeting twice a week (6 hours a week) and exploring the growth and evolution of elearning, as well as the major learning theories (behaviorism, cognivitism, constructivism, and connectivism) and their fit with eLearning.  Each week, the students blogged a reflective piece on what had transpired the previous week.

Last week was Week 3, and was the first of four weeks where the class shifted to a totally online environment.  I used a traditional assignment suggested to me by our Center instructional designer, Joyce Kincannon, to have small groups develop and deliver a lesson online on how to build the perfect PBJ sandwich.  In a normal week, this would have still been a fun activity, but the storms that rolled through Virginia last week made this anything but normal!

A good number of students lost power on Friday.  Some had lost power the previous Monday when smaller storms came through (and some won the prize by losing power twice).  As one student put it:

“It’s been a week of storms: brainstorming the PBJ lesson, stressing up a storm, forming, storming and norming within our group (Levi’s Stages of Group Development), and nature’s trifecta of storms. It didn’t make for the easiest or convenient week but I can say a lot was learned through the chaos. It tested our group’s support, trust, and drive-something that normally may not have shown through so early on in the process.”

Yet, all three teams collaborated online, developed three unique lessons on crafting PBJ sandwiches that were posted to our class wiki on time, and added commentary to each others’ projects.

One student summed up the week this way in our wiki:

“I would love to comment about what I’m learning but I’m too overwhelmed to articulate anything that might make any sense.  In the midst of trying to figure out how to teach the lesson of making the perfect PB & J sandwich (which apparently I don’t know how to do), I am reading emails,fielding questions, participating in chat sessions, looking for materials to include in the presentations, outlining learning objectives, attempting to complete reading assignments, blogging, responding to blogs, researching articles, posting articles, all the while using new applications and methods of communicating which I are new to me.  Yes, I’m learning something: something perhaps about managing stress.  So, if I don’t have a nervous breakdown in the middle of all this, I’ll let you know what I am learning.”

The stress levels were pretty high, and the storms simply added to the stress.  One student completed her assignments by using her phone in a local grocery store that had WiFi (and power).  Another noted in the wiki:

“The past seven days have been a whirlwind of craziness.  Is it strange that I was not so much worried that I didn’t have power at home for two days as I was about not having Internet access at home during that time?”

But as strong as the stress was, the community that formed was stronger.  These students, who had only been together for two weeks, found that they were not alone.  A word that was mentioned often in reflections was “trust”.  As one student noted in the wiki:

“One thing I know for sure, is that my teammates are the BEST!  We had some interesting sandpaper moments with our communication.  But, there was major trust!  And we knew we wouldn’t leave each other behind…  We did our best to work together and I think what we produced reflects a true “team” effort. “

Another said in our wiki:

“I too found myself fretting this week.  Interesting….the switch to online was bumpy.  I’ve taken online classes before & I enjoy online…so why the transition turmoil??  Was I already accustomed to the class organizing my learning??  Had I not spent enough time familiarizing myself with our Bb, Wiki, and assignments??  Was the first assignment being a collaborative one too challenging??  Did I need that sink or swim experience to motivate myself??  Were my expectations out of line??  I think the F2F time really helped the class develop a sense of community & cohesiveness.  Yet, transitioning to this virtual venue left me feeling disorganized & a bit overwhelmed.  I must say however that I did NOT feel isolated.  Support was there.  Interesting that others felt overwhelmed also…a normal reaction??  Something to consider.  I am feeling better now that I sense progress.  Perhaps the transition jitters were abbreviated by the F2F time.  Just surprised that several of us felt anxious…I didn’t expect that following the class time.”

In past classes, I have used a “sink or swim” experience early in my classes to help ease students over their fear of technology.  The manner in which this class jelled online seems to indicate that this type of experience is fruitful in developing community as well.  I would be interested in the thoughts of others regarding this.  Have others seen this as well?

Another interesting lesson for me was how adept these students were at attempting new practices.  Two of the groups used Google+ Hangout for their first time to coordinate their project work.  One group added a roving reporter doing her first podcast to their presentation (and who would not want a roving reporter reviewing PBJ’s?). Two groups used Prezi to present their lesson, while the third used the slideshow feature of Google Docs to present.   There were no expectations set up for their presentations (other than “more than powerpoint), and these students dove in …over their heads in many cases… and helped each other swim in the tech waters.  As Journey Girl noted:

“I recognized my learner-to-learner experience in my technical growth throughout Week 3.  I found myself using software and LMS’s that I wasn’t completely familiar or competent with using.  As a group we decided to use Google+ to have “Hangouts” – a tool for online communication (my first time using).  The file exchange in our team wiki (using Wiki being another first for me) was also used extensively to share information, suggestions, and final contributions.  To describe myself as a novice at using the presentation software, Prezi is putting it mildly.  But we were all “fish out of water” in that respect, nevertheless we all learned to use it and make our contributions when needed; learning from each other as we tried to create a “How to” course lesson.  E-mail and texting were used; in addition to “ol’ reliable” – the telephone, but only to talk each other through technical hiccups.  Every effort was made to do this assignment from “a distance as a collective” through as many electronic devices, tools, available.”

So one student summed up the week this way:

“I never thought about PB&J as much as I have this week!  I learned about it’s history.  I learned about it’s plethora of variations.  I learned about it’s accessories ~ who knew a sandwich could have accessories?!  I learned about it’s nutritional value.  Oh, but the lessons were deeper than just bread…..I learned about asynchronous collaboration, multimedia presentations – design & delivery, Google docs, embedding, Prezi, making crosswords and surveys.  I thought each group did an excellent job – presenting the learner with objectives and even a pre-assessment; using interactive forms of presentation to motivate & pique the learner’s interest; and organizing activities that allowed the learner to assess and/or reflect on their learning.  Perhaps, the desire for a group presentation post learning was a bit ambitious; but, it represented a diverse way of assessing learning.  Just saying…I think we are great 21st century educators!”

Over the next two weeks, these student groups will now be developing their group projects in the areas of online student, online instructor, and online teaching.  They are moving into these projects with a new sense of confidence and commitment.  They collectively have come away with a new appreciation for building adaptability and flexibility into their own eLearning.  I wonder if the same results could have been achieved without the unintended intervention of Mother Nature?  I do not know…but I do know that I got a lot of learning out of PBJ and Mother Nature this past week!

As one student noted – “I totally dreamed about PB&Js last night…”  When is the last time your students dreamed about their lessons?  🙂

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Hello 2012 and a New Community for Learning

I have to admit – 2011 seemed like a long year, and I am glad to see it go.  2012 seems more promising, even with a presidential election looming. 🙂

I did not blog much in 2011, but I also did little teaching in 2011 (and none online), and so did not feel that I had much to share (beyond occasional tweets).  I see 2012 as different.  Next week, we launch our first fully 0nline faculty development course – “Preparing to Teach Online”.  PTTO has 18 faculty signed up for the inaugural pilot of this course.  I have been working with my colleagues here at the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence for the past five months to map out and build this course. I will also be co-teaching grad students in our Preparing Future Faculty course and hopefully will be teaching a summer course on Theory and Practice of eLearning. The combination should definitely give me some rich opportunity for reflection, which I hope to capture here.

(…and I like the banner designed by my good friend Bud Deihl…)

Co-designing the PTTO course with Bud Deihl, Joyce Kincannon and Jeff Nugent has been a blast.  For some of our thought process, check out out philosophy statement in the course syllabus, which reads as follows:

“We are living in an amazing time – where the vast storehouse of human knowledge is readily available and easily accessible – quite literally at our fingertips. Using devices from laptops to mobile phones, we can connect to the Internet from anywhere and in moments search for and find information that not only helps us answer questions, solve problems and complete tasks, but also entertains, inspires and confounds us.  In our work with faculty members interested in teaching online, we have experienced the common perspective that moving a course online is primarily about designing and sequencing course content. While quality course content is a significant factor, we also believe that recent changes on the web – toward a more social and interconnected space – have necessitated the rethinking of what it means to teach and learn online.

This availability of knowledge does not necessarily lead to learning online. Students already have access to high quality learning content. Teaching online therefore means more than serving up content. Your critical tasks are to be the drivers of quality course design, content mastery, and the skilled facilitation of learning.  By skilled facilitation of learning, we mean understanding how to interact with and engage students in this new learning landscape.

In this online course, you will do many of the things you routinely do to prepare to teach a class.  You already set goals for your courses, describe the specific learning objectives, define the tasks necessary to meet those objectives, and then create applicable assignments around these tasks. The fundamentals are the same.  The practice of facilitating learner interaction is quite different.  What is different in our view flows from our observation that the web has become social. Online courses require the social presence of the faculty in order for the course to be effective.  Students need to form a learning community as well, and active engaged learning activities are required for the course to be effective.

We designed this course with these philosophies in mind.  Through our work together in the coming weeks, we all – each of you and each of the course consultants – will be actively present in this course, will build our own learning community, and will collaboratively engage each other in the best ways to facilitate learning online.  We look forward to this!”

The textbook for PTTO is Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt’s (2007) Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom.  We designed this course with the belief that community is a core component of a quality online learning experience. and we look forward to modelling this in our course.

Community has been on my mind for quite awhile, so I focused on something Stephen Downes said in yesterday’s oldaily about two posts that align nicely with this core focus of community.  Downes noted:

“Clarence Fisher writes a post titled ‘Learn it Yourself (LIY)‘ in which he argues “the Open Source revolution is rooted not in technology itself, but in learning. It’s the ease of observing how languages function and how programs are made – coupled with the ability to seek and openly share that information with others.” Meanwhile, Brian Lamb writes a post titled ‘DIO: Do It Ourselves‘ in which he argues “the slight shift to ‘DIO’ from ‘DIY’ is obvious enough, and if I think about all the fun and all I learned this past year through, say, DS106, it’s equally obvious I didn’t do any of it myself.” Which leads me to suggest the next logical step: LIO – Learn It Ourselves.”


There was a lightbulb that came on for me that brought full circle all the reading this past year on the DIY U movement and networked learning.  We are launching PTTO precisely because it is NOT a DIY world where individuals can in isolation learn new practice.  Rather, it is a richly nuanced networked world where “we” learn together, and through PTTO, we hope to build in ourselves and others the skills in networked learning that can then be applied by our colleagues who participate in their own courses.  I would also suggest that this will spill over into my other courses.  I have always told my students up front that I will learn as much from them as they will from me…this just puts a new spin on that concept.  In the summer course in particular, I hope to experiment more with Facebook groups, Google+ Hangouts, and the like, co-opting my students into a two-way learning community.

I would be interested in tips from any of you on what works with adults in creating and sustaining engaging learning communities.  And look for more in the coming months as we “learn it ourselves” in my courses.

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