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!

Friday, March 09, 2007

What's on the Horizon?

Each year the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project publishes a report discussing new technologies that will impact education. The 2006 Horizon Report was a collaboration between NMC and EDUCAUSE and the results are well worth reading. Download your copy here from EDUCAUSE.

From the report, the technologies to watch include,

  1. Social Computing
  2. Personal Broadcasting
  3. The Phones in their Pockets
  4. Educational Gaming
  5. Augmented Reality and Enhanced Visualization
  6. Context-Aware Environments and Devices
Social Computing (collaborative online tools) and Personal Broadcasting (podcasting and video blogging) are already exploding and this report describes the "time to adoption" as one year or less, so the time is now. Further, within two to three years, the Phones in their Pockets (enhanced mobile devices) and Educational Gaming (simulations, virtual worlds, social play and others) will become widely adopted tools for education.

Read this report and then think about "where do you want to go?" It's a much different world online that it was just a few short years (maybe months?) ago. And, remember this was last year's report.

Friday, March 02, 2007

HTML Tips Pt. I - Writing HTML vs. Using a Webpage Editor

HTML has the reputation for being a tool for ‘advanced’ web designers or computer programmers. The truth is HTML is nothing more than a way to tell a web browser how to format content. Web browsers can’t distinguish between bold type, italics, paragraphs, or other formatting options on their own, so they depend on HTML ‘tags’.

Tags work like quotes. When a writer wants you to know that someone says something, he or she uses quotes. Likewise, when a web designer wants a browser to display something like bold type, he or she uses ‘tags’. We’ll get into more detail with tags in future blogs.

Frontpage, Dreamweaver, and even Word automatically create HTML for you, so why should you spend time trying to learn HTML?

  • Knowing some basic HTML will save you time. Webpage editors don’t always give you the result you expect. You will be able to spot the problem and fix it immediately rather than spending time trying to make it work (or settling for what you get) in a webpage editor.
  • HTML generated by editors is inefficient. Inefficient code can cause some parts of your page to be inaccessible to certain browsers, and can also cause excessive load times.
Take these two sentences for example:

This is sentence one.
This is sentence two.

If you put these sentences into Word and save it as a web page you will end up with a file that contains over 100 lines of HTML. You could get the same visual result writing your own HTML in just six lines. The extra HTML causes the Word file to be over 50 times larger than necessary, and even these simple sentences may not be formatted as you expect in certain browsers.

It’s not necessary to code your entire site by hand (or even know every HTML tag) to make your page more effective and efficient. Next time we’ll take a look at the various tags and how simple it is to write your own HTML. In the meantime, here are some great HTML resources:

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Virtual Groups in Online Courses

Hey folks, Bev here. Na will be back soon (next week), but left me with a message that she wanted me to post for her in her absence. So, here goes...

Virtual group activities are important tools in the online class, in which students learn in both a constructivist and social approach. In other words, students learn both from their own practice and from the teamwork and communication of the group.

For those who are interested in using virtual groups in your online courses, consider reading the article, Virtual Group Problem Solving in the Basic Communication Course: Lessons for Online Learning. Below is the abstract:

Skepticism about online instruction often erroneously blames the electronic medium for shortcomings in instructional design or technique. This essay discusses the performance expectations for fully online group problem-solving via threaded discussion boards. Four years of administering this assignment in a basic oral communication course yield detailed instructional guidelines that enrich the online learning experience and fulfill general education competency mandates. Experiences with online group problem-solving should encourage educators to adapt to technological innovations in pedagogy.

(Roy Schwartzman. Virtual Group Problem Solving in the Basic Communication Course: Lessons for Online Learning. Journal of Instructional Psychology, March 2006.)

In the appendix, several virtual group activities are suggested. Although the application of virtual groups discussed in this article involves communication courses, the idea can be applied to many other disciplines, too.

Have you used virtual groups in your online course? Do you have any thoughts on using virtual groups? Please share your experiences in the comments area. We will also be hosting more discussion on virtual groups in the future.
[Na Wu, Feb 1, 2007]

Friday, February 16, 2007

Tips for Recording Audio

Ready to start podcasting? Here are some audio recording tips to help you get started. Above anything else, the important thing is to just get started. Your first recordings may not be "Grammy winners" but they will improve with time and experience.

1. Write a script. Make it conversational, not textbook. You don’t have to follow it word-for-word, but it will help guide you and minimize long pauses (while you think about what to say). Create a PDF of the script and include it with your podcast.

2. Use a quality headset with microphone and position the microphone about 3" from your mouth. You don't have to spend a lot of money. I use a Logitech Premium USB 350. Talk in a normal, conversational voice.

3. Record at the highest sampling rate and resolution, e.g., 16-bit and 44.1 kHz. You want the original recording to be high quality. When you export as mp3, the quality will be compressed and file size reduced.

4. Start and end your podcast with a few seconds of music (about 5-10 seconds). Fade the music out as you begin to speak. Fade the music in at the end. Do not use copyrighted, commercial material, e.g., from movies or albums. My favorite site for finding music tracks is PodsafeAudio. Free to use under the Creative Commons license.

5. Edit your recording to remove the pauses, ums, ahs, coughs, squeeky chair, shuffling papers, etc. A very easy-to-use, open source (free) audio recording and editing tool is Audacity. Note: Remember to download and save the LAME Encoder to export your files in the mp3 format.

That’s it. You’re ready to get started. Do you have any other recording tips that you want to share? Let us hear about them in the Comments area.

Friday, February 09, 2007

A Good Article on Online Course Design and Faculty Development

Na is on vacation (in China!) and she asked that I post this on her behalf while she is gone.

I would like to recommend the following article, which discusses best practice from Washington State University on the relationships between online course design, faculty development, and effective student engagement.

Brown, G., Meyers, C.B., Roy, S. (2003) Formal course design and the studnet experience, Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 7(3), 66-77.

What impact does collaboration between faculty and professional course designers have on the student learning experience? As the use of technologies increases, educational institutions have to find ways of identifying an daddressing expectations about how technologies can best be incorporated into the teaching and learning experiences. This paper reports on efforts at Washington State University to develop and assess the course design and faculty development process and the impact the process has on student learning experiences. Theresults of a comprehensive set of faculty and student surveys from five groups suggest that the systematic coruse design process improves students' opportunities for faculty-student interaction, student-student interaction, and other elements associated with best practice. The implications of this study for faculty development and policy implementation are discussed.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Five Ways to Reduce PowerPoint Overload

It’s happened to everyone at one time or another: you’ve started a new PowerPoint presentation and the first thing you see is the dreaded blank slide. You may not be 100% sure how to start, but you’re pretty sure something should be on it.

A blank slide tends to invite the urge to fill it with as much information as possible, and before you know it things have gotten out of hand. What can you do during the design process to make sure you don’t overload your audience with information? In their article Five Ways to Reduce PowerPoint Overload, Cliff Atkinson and Richard E. Mayer discuss ways of overcoming this common occurrence:

I. Write a clear headline that explains the main idea of every slide. Rather than providing a title for your slides, consider using a more conversational headline.

II. Break your story into digestible bites using the Slide Sorter view. The Slide Sorter view allows you to see your entire presentation at a glance. Look for consistency in the amount of information on each page — you will be able to immediately spot slides that are overcrowded.

III. Reduce visual load by moving text off-screen and narrating the content. Too much text on a slide will force your audience to read everything (whether they comprehend it all or not). Keep text on slides to a minimum, and use the Notes Page view to type out the details in a narrative form. This not only allows you to print out comprehensive handouts, but it allows you to organize your thoughts and reduce dependency on notes during a presentation.

IV. Use visuals with your words, instead of words alone. A slide full of text is not as effective as a slide with text and images.

V. Rigorously remove every element that does not support the main idea. Too much of anything on a slide will overwhelm your audience — keep things as simple as possible, and rely on your own knowledge and narration as the focal point of a presentation or lecture.

You can read the full article here. If you have any information or tips to share regarding this topic please post in the comments area below.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Online Education How-to Guides

Are your students first-time online learners? Are they struggling with group activities? Are they frustrated with the feeling of isolation? …Online Education How-to Guides share useful tips with the students on how to survive and be successful in the online class:

· How to Prepare For Your First Online Course
· How to Set Up a Home Office for Online Learning
· How to Write an “A+” Discussion Posting
· How to Avoid Plagiarism
· How to Effectively Participate in a Live Chat Session
· How to Avoid Isolation in Your Online Class
· How to Survive Virtual Group Work
· How to Do Online Research

Check it out and share with your students!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Is Videotaping Your Entire Lecture the Best Option?

When deciding whether to videotape your lectures, consider the following:

  • Who is your audience? Do they have high speed or dialup internet connections?
  • What is the topic or content being discussed? Does it require a demonstration, experiment or simulation? Do you need to show facial expressions or body movements?
  • What is your lecture/presentation style? Do you typically lecture with slides? Do you present from a lectern or move around the classroom? Do you frequently write on the whiteboard?
Generally, there is not much benefit to putting entire lecture videos online. Besides the technical considerations of editing, file size, viewing quality and bandwidth, students may easily become distracted or bored watching a long lecture video and miss important concepts. On the positive side, they may be taking notes, but still not watching the video. You should use video only when it offers a clear benefit to the learning process.

Here are some suggestions for putting lecture video online:
  1. Use video for visually communicating actions that are difficult to explain verbally. Try to avoid the "talking head" video lectures.
  2. Break long videos into several short video clips by task or concept. Videos can be anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Typically 8-10 minutes is an average attention span.
  3. Take the time to plan your recordings. Consider the environment, i.e., background, lighting, noise, etc. and your participants.
  4. Plan ways to show things instead of only telling about them.
  5. Be energetic and dynamic.
If your lecture does not require visual communication, you should consider recording audio only to accompany a slide presentation or lecture notes. To add narration to your slides, consider using Adobe Breeze, which publishes the presentation in the Flash format. Or, simply record your audio and post as an .mp3 file with your lecture notes.

Please help us learn by sharing your experiences using video lectures in your online classroom.

Friday, January 19, 2007

OpenCourseWare Grows Up

Since MIT launched OpenCourseWare in 2001, this project has grown not too fast but firmly. MIT plans to publish course materials of all its courses online, including syllabi, lecture notes, quizzes, and so on, for everyone to use freely, yes, freely. More than 900 of MIT’s 1800 courses have been published so far. If you would like to know more about OCW, you may read The Chronicle’s article ‘Open Courseware’ Idea Spreads.

Obviously the project needs money, and fortunately, it’s supported by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. With the foundation’s support, many other institutions join MIT now, although many of them plan to release selected courses instead of all, like MIT. In addition, some institutions have their own features. For example, Yale University announced last year to have the lecture videos of selected courses online.

The other institutions working on the OCW project are: Carnegie Mellon University, Foothill-DeAnza Community College District, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Open University of the UK, Tufts University, U. of California at Irvine, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and Utah State University.

OCW can be a great resource to UHV instructors and students who work on online courses.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Title V News

We’d like to take some time this week to give you a quick overview of the Title V Grant and its current status. If you have not yet heard, UHV is working in cooperation with Coastal Bend College on a grant designed to increase enrollment on both campuses and improve distance learning capacities through three components:

  • Component I—Coastal Bend Cougar Connections
  • Component II—Distance Learning Academies
  • Component III—UHV Connections

UHV will primarily be involved with Components II and III. We won’t go into the details of Component II at this point, but this component will consist of three academies designed to help faculty improve their online courses and save time in the process. A few ‘extras’ will be issued to faculty members who successfully complete the program.

Component III is the mentoring portion of the grant. UHV students who qualify to become mentors will be guiding and motivating CBC students in an effort to close the gap between the community college and university.

If you are a student interested in becoming a mentor, please contact Robert Cortez, Title V UHV Connections Coordinator:

In addition to updates through the LTD blog, a website devoted to Title V is nearing completion. Full details of each component will be available on the site, as well as bulletins and newsletters. We plan to implement a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ (FAQ) section on the site, so if you have any questions regarding Title V or any of its components please email, or stop by UW133.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Jumpstarting Your Course Discussion Board

Well, here it is…the start of another semester online. How do you get your students involved early? Discussions should be an integral part of your online course. But, don’t wait until you dive into content-related discussions to get students talking. Instead, have them jump in with non-threatening, introductory discussions that will 1) acclimate them to the technology and 2) start to build community among participants.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Create an introductions forum/topic for your students to get to know you and each other.
    • Introduce yourself and introduce the course
    • Ask students to introduce themselves—they will generally take their cue from your post, so if you include information like family, hobbies, study interests, etc., they will likely do the same
    • Create a fun or unusual icebreaker activity, i.e.:
      • One word—students post one word (or animal, city, piece of clothing, etc.) that describes them and why.
      • Unusual fact—students post an unusual fact about themselves
      • Unusual travel story—students post a brief story about a travel/vacation incident
      • Three things—students list their three favorite…websites, people, foods, jobs, etc.

  2. Create a casual forum/topic for your students to interact with each other on non-course-related topics, i.e., “Coffee House”, “Cyber Lounge”, etc.
  3. Create a technology help forum/topic for students to seek assistance on technology issues.
  4. Create a course help forum/topic for students to post course-related questions, i.e., where do I find…? when is the test again? etc.


  1. Define expectations. Create a rubric for graded discussions identifying your expectations for quality and frequency of posts.
  2. Define conduct rules. Provide netiquette resources.
  3. Clearly state the purpose of each topic/forum, including any social or help topics.

Building an active and engaging discussion board is critical to conducting a successful online course. Stay tuned for more tips and strategies to build and facilitate interactive online courses. Please share your ideas and experiences using the comments below.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Improve Your Syllabus for Better Planning and Communication

Welcome back to UHV! It must be very hard to say Goodbye to the holiday break, but the new semester is also exciting with all the plans. One of the most important plans is the syllabus—the plan of your course, which is also the basis of the students’ personal studying plans. In this post, I would like to offer some resources or suggestions that you might find helpful when developing or revising your syllabus.

Being Informative
As standard practice, a syllabus needs to include detailed information about course content, textbook, prerequisite, instructor contact information, grading policy, course schedule, university policies, and so on.
Syllabus Checklist A pretty clear checklist created by University of Minnesota.
Writing a Syllabus The author asks ten inspiring questions on developing online syllabus. Several resources are also recommended.
Creating an Effective Online Syllabus A good article with a sample syllabus.

Being Clear
A good online course syllabus should be easily understood, accessible, and reflecting current content ("The ABCs of online course syllabi: anticipate, build on objectives, and collaborate. " Online Cl@ssroom, May 2006). A good idea is to use various font styles, such as bold, italics, or different fonts, to highlight the important information. This is especially useful if your syllabus has long paragraphs. One tip is to ask a family member or friend to read the syllabus draft from a student’s perspective, and it’s easier for them to identify the points that are not clear enough.

Be Interactive
As part of an online course, the syllabus can be interactive by using hyperlinks to link to relevant resources. The advantages are: 1) it’s easy to keep the content current; 2) the students have the opportunities to find more information by themselves as needed. "The information that may be linked includes:
· Publisher website
· Information for organizations/affiliations to course or program information
· Reference materials for weekly discussion areas
· Classical research
· Graphics
· Sound bites
· Video clips
· Photographs or slides
· Instructor’s email address"
("Interactive syllabus improves course accessibility." Online Cl@ssroom, June 2005.)

Please share your ideas and comments on developing online course syllabus in the comments area below.