Friday, May 04, 2007

Using Virtual Groups in Online Class

by Don Smith

In my Professional Writing course I broke the class down into four groups to work on the same group project. The primary purpose was to teach the students how to develop agenda, conduct meetings, and write up summary minutes of actions taken, issues raised, and next steps. The project was for the group to serve as a search committee planning a search and developing an ad for the made-up position of market manager for the E-Z Educational Software Company. The secondary purpose of the assignment was to give them experience on the other side of the search process, since their next assignment was to be doing their own resume and a letter of application.

I appointed a facilitator for each group, who was to coordinate the discussion, gather input from the other group members, and submit a project report and then a final copy of the agenda, minutes, and ad. The group would share the same grade--with these exceptions: 1) the grade would not be lower than the student's average in the course but could be higher, and 2) those that did not do their share of the work would not share in the grade.

How did the assignment go?

1. Appointing a facilitator or group leader worked very well. Of course I chose capable and dependable students, and they took the job quite seriously.

2. As usual, though, some of the members also took the assignment seriously and helped the facilitators, and some of them took the opportunity to shirk.

3. I don't know how to create a situation in which each member would be as responsible as the leader, since everyone cannot be put in charge, but if I had it to do over, I would have each member submit to the instructor the same work each was supposed to submit to the facilitator (each was supposed to do draft agenda and minutes and send those to the facilitator for compilation into a single draft). A second benefit would be that I would not have to ask the facilitators to rat on their fellow students.

What were the technological challenges?

1. It is not very difficult to set up groups in WebCT--each with its own discussion board and chat room, plus whiteboard for posting messages. But the language WebCT uses is not so user friendly, at least to someone like me. So, I had to seek help from Na Wu and Kristy Holly, and they were very helpful.

2. The problem is in part that WebCT seeks to serve a great variety of faculty members with a great diversity of needs. So, there are also more bells and whistles and options than I need for the simple stuff I do. Next time I will know better how to cut through the unnecessary.

3. The students are not uniformly capable of using the technology. I assumed all would know how to use a chat room. They didn't. I'm not sure everyone knew what it was. So, next time I will be more basic in my instructions.

4. However, students are very resourceful. I did point out contingencies they could rely on to complete the assignment if the technology proved problematic. It did. In one class, the discussion board completely crashed, owing to some system malfunction (not something I caused, thank goodness, since I live in fear that I will surely break something sooner or later in my floundering around). But the students were quite up to the challenge. They found ways to connect and get the job done--except for those who were not going to do their share, regardless of convenience or lack of it.

All in all, I think the assignment was successful, in that most of the students learned something useful, not the least of which was how to conduct meetings online. And I learned something, too, about how to make the assignment more successful or at least less stressful in the future. Not that learning can or should ever be stress free.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Academic Search Tools

Online resources can account for a significant portion of research for both students and faculty. The primary options for gathering online resources have been to a) spend time finding the material online, and then spend additional time making sure the resource is legitimate, and b) accessing online material from journals and books through the library system.

While both of these options will get results, there are some new search engines available to help you find reliable resources that you can use in your research, as well as material that you can incorporate into your courses:

Google Scholar is a Google-based search engine that returns scholarly results (which helps to ‘weed out’ undesirable websites). Peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts, journals, and other literature may all be included in the search results. Google Scholar also allows submissions, so your works can be included in this search engine if you wish.

Google Books is another one of Google’s specialty search engines. A search here will return a list of books related to the keywords you are searching on. In some cases you are able to view the full book online directly in Google Books without having to check it out at a library or purchase it in a store. In all cases you will get full bibliographic data and links that allow you to locate libraries or stores that have the physical book available.

Similar to Google Scholar, Microsoft’s Academic Live Search (still in its Beta phase) may return bibliographical information, abstract, or full text versions of scholarly articles.

These search engines are an excellent tool for saving time and locating resources that you may have otherwise had to do some ‘footwork’ to access.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The View on the Horizon

The 2007 Horizon Report is now available. This collaboration between The New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative is a must-read for anyone involved with teaching and learning in higher ed. This annual report discusses key trends, critical challenges and technologies to watch that will impact higher education.

The key trends they have identified this year:

  • The environment of higher education is changing rapidly
  • Increasing globalization is changing the way we work, collaborate and communicate
  • Information literacy increasingly should not be considered a given
  • Academic review and faculty rewards are increasingly out of sync with new forms of scholarship
  • The notions of collective intelligence and mass amateurization are pushing the boundaries of scholarship
  • Students’ views of what is and what is not technology are increasingly different from those of faculty
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to discuss each of the following six Technologies to Watch in more detail and I look forward to hearing your comments and questions about integrating these into your classroom.
  • User-created content
  • Social networking
  • Mobile phones
  • Virtual worlds
  • The new scholarship and emerging forms of publication
  • Massively multiplayer educational gaming
The first two of these technologies, user-created content and social networking, are already established on many college campuses. The time to adoption is one year or less. Are you using them?

Download your copy of the report today and start thinking about the possibilities.

Monday, April 16, 2007

I'm Your Teacher, Not Your Internet-Service Provider

Is this what you wanted to say to your students? If yes, read this article I'm Your Teacher, Not Your Internet-Service Provider and you will find more shared experiences between yourself and the author.

Although the article was written back in 2003, it looks like the students are still the same. 24/7 office hours, the students missing the deadlines, technology difficulties......the frustrations are still in the online courses, too. However, the author was not beaten by all of these, instead she had a positive attitude and shared a lot of thoughts and suggestions on finding the solutions in the article.

By the way, it's a very humorous one and really worth reading:-)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

New Treasures in OpenCourseWare

As a valuable and innovative distance learning resource, OpenCourseWare has grown up firmly in the recent years (for more information, read another post OpenCourseWare Grows Up). Along with the development of OCW, a bunch of useful tools and resources have been provided for the users to benefit more from OCW.

For the OCW provider institutions, eduCommons, a learning management system designed specifically for OCW, is freely available now. The participating institutions can simply upload their course materials into eduCommons and have an OCW site similar to that of Utah State University. Such a LMS may take OCW into its next period.

For the users, OpenCourseWare Finder is a handy tool to browse or search for courses in specific disciplines. Some other open resources include Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, Flickr: Creative Commons, and so on. Various resources can be found on these websites, including electronic books, text, music, media, image, and animation. All the resources are free, but usually some rules apply to the usage of them, including non-commercial usage, share-alike distributing, etc. It is a good idea to check the websites for such requirements before one uses the resources.

More and more people are taking advantage of OCW. According to what I learned in a seminar on the UH main campus last Friday, the Utah State University OCW has approximately 2000 visitors per day. The number is continuingly increasing, while is still not the most among all the OCW sites. Among all these users, 48% are self-learners, 31% are students, and 15% are faculty.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Title V News

We have some small but important updates regarding Title V this week. The mentoring portion of the grant is well under way with the first few mentor training sessions already completed. The e-mentoring course itself is under development, and a trip to CBC is planned for this Friday (3/23/07) to kick off the collaboration between CBC mentees and UHV mentors. If you would like more information regarding the online mentoring program please contact Robert Cortez:

The Title V website is up and running! Additional information regarding all three components will be added as the grant progresses. We hope to have some bulletins and newsletters available on the site within the next few weeks. The website should prove to be a useful resource for anyone involved in Title V or anyone with questions regarding Title V. The website is located at

If you have any questions not answered on the website, please email them to

If you have any questions or comments regarding the site itself, please email

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What’s Happening in the Other Online Courses?

Once in a LTD workshop, a faculty member told me now and then he felt he was in a "technology vacuum", and he would love to learn what his peer faculty members are doing in their online courses.

Obviously he is not the only one who has this feeling. Having the same thoughts, the educators of Sloan-C have collected several effective practices of learning effectiveness, which include class participation, discussion, rubrics development, peer evaluation, virtual lab, and many other aspects of online course. Each practice is briefly summarized, and the URLs to the courses and the relevant resources are provided.

Learning about what the other faculty members are doing in their online courses is interesting, and can often bring great inspirations and ideas. Therefore, we always cordially invite you to share your online teaching experience with the other UHV faculty!