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Providing Online Office Hours Using Adobe Connect

Providing office hours to students can be expanded into an online environment. Thanks to fast connection speeds at Purdue, students can communicate with you, the professor, in real time. Anymore, students use their laptops and tablets to interact with their courses online through Blackboard Learn, and many already use Adobe Connect for online courses or collaborating with their peers- why not communicate with them in a way that they can utilize daily with ease? Not only can students text chat, Adobe Connect provides them with voice features and webcam integration too. That’s not all, Adobe Connect enables you to share documents, videos, applications, websites, and more just as seamlessly as you would in a face-to-face meeting.

If you have no prior experience using Adobe Connect, you need not worry. ITaP has supplied training to aid you in learning more about the product and how you might integrate it into your online office hours offerings.

Main ITaP resource page for Adobe Connect: http://www.itap.purdue.edu/learning/tools/gomeet/

ITaP Adobe Connect video tutorials: http://www.itap.purdue.edu/learning/trainingnew/online/Connect/index.html

Now, there are several tips to keep in mind when using Connect for your online office hours.

Internet Connection
When hosting an Adobe Connect session, it is important to be on a stable, Ethernet-cable tethered connection. We suggest you use the internet provided in your office by Purdue. Also, it is recommended that students use a Ethernet cable in their dorm, apartment, workspace, etc. when using Connect.

Computer with two screens
If possible, it is recommended you use a computer that has two monitors. The reason for this is that you will need one screen with the Adobe Connect application running and could use the other for what materials you are actively sharing off of your computer.

Another setup you could try if using two monitors is not possible, is to use a laptop connected to the Connect meeting room to monitor activity and use your main computer for sharing materials.

Additional Equipment
To ensure you are able to effectively communicate with your students, consider using an audio headset with a maneuverable microphone built-in. If you do not already own a headset, consider purchasing one that is powered by USB, which tend to output higher quality audio than those powered by a traditional 3.5mm audio-jack. When using your headset, do not place the microphone right in front of your mouth, instead try to place the mic about an inch or 2 away from the corner. This will lessen popping sounds and breathing interference.

Also, you might consider using a webcam, which can assist in better student attentiveness and non-verbal cues.

A few microphone headset recommendations:
Plantronics Audio 478
OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8– Mac OSX 10.5+
Price: $24.59
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005VAORH6/

Plantronics DSP400 (Foldable)
OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8– Mac OSX 10.5+
Price: $38.99
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000VEMNRS/

Plantronics Blackwire C420
OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8– Mac OSX 10.5+
Price: $62.44
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B003EA21AA/

Whether you choose to pick any of these above or have another product in mind, use these tips to make a decision:

  • Choose a headset with a USB plug instead of an analog plug (3.5 mm RCA). USB offers a more stable, higher quality recording interface and pair with the audio chipset in your computing device.
  • Look to see if the cable for the headset includes a mute button and volume adjustment buttons/sliders.
  • If you’re looking for a microphone that allows for multiple people to talk in the same room or if you’re moving around a room while you’re speaking, you might consider a condenser microphone. Samson makes several products that work well for this purpose.

A few webcam recommendations:
Logitech C310
OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8
Price: $30.96
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B003LVZO8S

Logitech C525
OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8
Price: $41.40
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004WO8HQ4

Logitech C615
OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8– Mac OSX 10.5+
Price: $47.99
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004YW7WCY

Logitech C920
OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8
Price: $77.33
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006JH8T3S

Software
It is recommended that you use the latest version of any of these browsers: Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Apple Safari.

Other than using an up-to-date browser, it is highly recommended that you update to the latest version of Adobe Flash Player for the browser you will use. Please click this link to download the latest version: http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/

*Please provide this recommendation to your students as well.

Close unnecessary programs on your computer
To optimize the available resources to run Adobe Connect, please close down any unnecessary programs running on your computer.

*Please provide this recommendation to your students as well.

Use a physical space with minimal distractions
Whether it is your office or a conference/meeting room, choose a physical space where you can limit distractions so that you can engage with you students with minimal interruptions.

*This is a good suggestion for students too.

Adobe Connect, example, online office hours

This an example of a meeting room in Adobe Connect.

Lastly, here are some ideas on what you could use Adobe Connect to successfully conduct online office hours:

  • Open discussion- Enable open discussion between you and your students and/or moderate student discussion on course subjects. This can be webcam, audio, and/or text-based. Connect has the power of polling users as well.
  • Sharing lesson plans and/or documents with students- Upload Word documents, PDFs, PowerPoint files, etc. with students to go over course subjects and provide further explanations of concepts.
  • Demonstrate how to use software- Students struggling with SPSS or MathLab on the night before an assignment’s due date? Use Connect to demonstrate workarounds and troubleshoot their issues. With Connect you can actively allow students the ability to share their screens with the click of a mouse.

I hope this article has been helpful and encouraging. Please send an email to tlt-consulting@purdue.edu to seek additional information on Adobe Connect and strategies on using the software to engage with your students. Also, don’t forget to frequently check this blog for additional articles that may be of interest to you.

Instructor Presence in an Online Course

Presence is the most important best practice for an online course (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 53)

Research has shown that an important component in students ‘performance in and satisfaction with their online course is the active participation of the instructor within their course (Picciano, 2002; Rovai, 2002; Swan & Shih, 2005). Students want to interact with their professors throughout their online experience. A criticism that shows up repeatedly in the literature involves online instructors who do not respond to students in a timely manner or provide little or no feedback. Active participation of the instructor, as well as their ongoing interactions with students, helps them to be “present” in an online course. Instructor presence is important because it helps bridge the distance and address feelings of isolation students may feel when learning online. Instructor presence includes three elements, teaching presence, instructor immediacy, and social presence (Mandemach, Gonzales, & Garrett, 2006).

Teaching presence is a concept described in Garrison, Anderson, and Archer’s (2000) Community of Inquiry framework. These researchers argued that teachers were “the binding element” that not only creates but help to sustain the learning community. Teaching presence is established in three ways, course design, facilitation, and direct instruction (Garrison et al., 2000). Course design involves tasks such as, curriculum development, creation and integration of a variety of learning activities into the course, and assessment of participant learning outcomes. Facilitation includes setting the course climate, encouraging learner participation in course activities, and acknowledging participant responses. Direct instruction encompasses tasks such as, regulating the amount of material covered, posing questions that guide participant learning, summarizing discussions, and confirming understanding through assessment and feedback. Each of these interrelated processes helps shape the student learning experience.

Instructor immediacy involves communication behaviors that reduce “social and psychological distance between people” (Arbaugh, 2001, p. 45). Immediacy behaviors include using humor and participant names, encouraging participation during discussion, and sharing personal stories. One of the things I liked in an online course I recently took is that our instructor would acknowledge the personal interests of students on a given topic and recommend books that she liked so that students could explore the topic further.

Social presence involves the ability of an individual to project themselves as a “real person” in the online learning environment (Garrison et al., 2000). Ways in which in which the idea of social presence manifests itself in an online class include self-disclosure, such as sharing work and professional interests, and modeling open, respectful communication. For instance, one of the ways an instructors demonstrate this principle is through their online biographies in which they share information about their hobbies and research interests.

Techniques to establish instructor presence include:
• Sending welcoming messages and preliminary information about the course before it begins.
• Create meet the instructor and course navigation videos to initiate students to social presence and help establish expectations.
• Sharing information related to personal and professional interests.
• Making your course site organized and easy to navigate.
• Using the announcement forum to communicate important information about your course.
• Setting expectations at the beginning of your course for how often you will check messages and how soon
• Providing timely feedback to students, using a variety of formats (i.e., email, phone, online office hours).
• Sharing your expertise with students.
• Using names when asking students to explain rationale or posing questions to them.
• Monitoring student progress.
• Actively problem solving with students.

Tips and Resources

Improving your teaching presence in distance learning courses (Worcester Polytechnic Institute)

Jones, P., Naugle, K., & Kolloff, M. (2008). Teacher Presence: Using introductory videos in online and hybrid courses. Learning Solutions Magazine.

References
Arbaugh, J. B. (2001). How instructor immediacy behaviors affect student satisfaction and learning in web courses. Business Communication Quarterly, 64(4), 42-54.

Boettcher, J.V., & Conrad, R. (2010).The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87−105.

Picciano, A. G. (2002). Beyond student perceptions: Issues of interaction, presence, and performance in an online course. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 6(1), 21-38.

Ten Things I’ve Learned Teaching Online

I’ve been teaching online courses for over 6 years now, and every semester it seems to be a new experience. Some semesters go smoothly, and other semesters present new opportunities for me to change my approaches. Regardless of every group of students, there are ten things I have learned that I keep in mind when I do teach. Here are those lessons:

  1. Some students are simply not ready to take online courses. Whether they are learners who need an in-classroom experience, or there is a lack of understanding about how online classes work, there will be students who start their online class without knowing exactly what they will need to do. What I have done is create an “orientation” for my course (using a blank page in Blackboard Learn) which is the first page students see for the initial week of classes. On this page I explain what is expected of students in the class, where to find their syllabus, and other information to get them started.
  2. It’s easy for instructors to blame Blackboard when things go awry. I’ve made errors with settings before where a test didn’t open on schedule for students. Instead of sticking to the due date, I took responsibility for the error and provided an appropriate extension.
  3. Be as specific about course policies and procedures as possible in your syllabus. If you don’t give extra credit, make it clear. If you do not accept late work except in certain circumstances, be as specific as possible as to what constitutes an acceptable circumstance to turn in work after the due date. If your course is completely online, your students should be referring to the course syllabus for all information about the course. If your syllabus is vague and open to interpretation, you put yourself in a position where students could question and appeal your decisions.
  4. Keep your course calendar as static as possible during the term. Ideally, an online student should be managing their time based on the calendar you have given them at the beginning of the term. Also, keep in mind that if you do have proctored exams and your students are trying to schedule times to take their exams at a testing center, they will hopefully make appointments well in advance based on your course schedule, and changing the calendar during the term may require scrambling on the part of your students to rearrange their exam appointments.
  5. Be direct but kind when communicating with students individually when they do something that violates course rules or exhibits a behavior that is unacceptable to you. Did they email you five times in two hours about what their grade was on an assignment they just submitted less than 24 hours before? Did they plagiarize another student’s discussion board post on the same topic word-for-word? Clearly explain the concern but carefully construct the message to be guiding – I try to keep in mind that what I write back to a student can support me later or be used against me.
  6. Be engaged. Post announcements frequently. Participate in discussions to provide guidance and to keep discussions on track. Provide rich feedback so students can review their work with the feedback and improve their performance. Students can tell if an instructor is actively involved in the class or if the instructor is passive, where the instructor is only grading and providing basic feedback. Students will make note on their course evaluations of how active you were in the class!
  7. Grade quickly, because students are expecting feedback quickly. Yes, that large research paper may take a week or two to grade, and students should be told that upfront so they aren’t expecting grades on that project immediately – YOU need time to read their papers, grade the assignment, and provide feedback! However, for short assignments, essays, and graded discussions, make an attempt to return grades within a week of the due date.
  8. Provide explicit expectations and directions for assignments. And this does include mundane details – if you have Microsoft Word on your computer(s), you need to make sure students submit papers in a format you can read! As you provide full instructions on the content you want to see in the paper, whether the paper is to be in APA, MLA, Chicago, etc. format, and other details on the content you want to see, don’t forget to direct students to submit papers in a format you can read. The older Microsoft Word format (.doc) and Rich Text Format (.rtf) provide formats that nearly all word processing programs can produce and open. The more detailed you are, the less questions about the assignment you may need to answer.
  9. Understand that students aren’t taking online classes in a “perfect” environment. Students’ internet connections fail. Computers crash. Browsers lock up. Be willing to work with students who contact you before the due date/time who need to re-submit an assignment or possibly retake a quiz due to technical problems.
  10. If you do teach completely online and you schedule live online office hours via Adobe Connect or some of Blackboard’s collaboration tools, don’t be shocked if students don’t use those hours. I schedule two hours per week where I am available via live chat for my students. If students aren’t utilizing that time, I spend that time grading or working on the course. Those are two specific hours I set aside just for my online course, and if students contact me during that time, great! If not, I’ve used that time productively.

These are just some of the things I’ve learned teaching online courses. If you’re considering teaching online classes, just remember these courses are a different experience for you and your students. If you need any assistance with your courses, please contact us at tlt-consulting@purdue.edu.

Brett Creech
Educational Technologist

Creating a Complete/Incomplete assignment option in Blackboard Learn

Instructors sometimes ask,  ”How can I create an assignment in Blackboard Learn that isn’t graded?”

It is possible to create a check mark in your Grade Center indicating a task is completed without assigning a grade value.  The trick is setting that part up after you have created the assignment.  To have an entry that looks like the image below in your Grade Center, you need to set up the assignment as normal, which requires you to enter some value in the Points Possible field.

image of check mark in grade column

 

 

 

After you have the assignment created, go to that column in your Grade Center.  Select Edit Column Information from the column header drop down menu.  As you scroll through your options, under Primary Display, you will notice an option for Complete/Incomplete.  You may select that option now and change your Points Possible to zero or another desired value.

complete and incomplete option in primary display

 

 

 

 

 

Remember to click the Submit button to save your changes. You will now be able to click in the grade cell and add a check mark for students who have completed the assigned task.