Monday, December 9, 2013

Preventing late work in online courses

A colleague asked a question on our listserve and my response was robust. I decided it needed wider circulation. She asked how to prevent students from turning in late work of shoddy quality in her online courses.

  • First of all, make sure you have your late policy clearly stated and make sure they know the consequences of late work.
  • Make sure you have good rubrics for the work so you can accurately grade the poor quality so they know why they are getting the scored they earned, late or not.
  • Make sure they are aware of the course calendar and remind them of upcoming due dates especially for big assignments.
  • If the student has a legitimate emergency they should let you know as soon as possible. The definition of an emergency in my courses is something which cannot be written on the calendar in advance (so... not weddings, and family vacations). I tend to be pretty lenient with emergencies and I think I am pretty good at telling which are the real emergencies. Our students lives are so chaotic that they really could not make up the excuses I see. Real life is crazier than they would dare make up and try to pass off as a fake excuse. My experience is if I give them a little leeway on a real emergency they usually do a great job.
  • That said there are always some procrastinators and just lazy folks who want to do the minimum. Then you are back to the first two points about late policies and solid rubrics. 
  • In many of my classes students are told that if their work does not meet my standards they will be expected to re-do it. I provide them with support so they know what needs to be fixed and how to fix it, but they don't earn a score until their work is re-done. This is very important if the assignments throughout the course are building to something bigger, like a research paper. I have learned to state a date and time when the re-do must be submitted.
  • I am a big believer in positive reinforcement so I also will post Thank you's to everyone who has already completed something such as a survey. This one is tricky, you have to make sure your record-keeping is accurate so you thank everyone who has done whatever it is. I find that usually I immediately get a few others completing the task.
  • If they have to post something publicly for peer review by mid-week you are more likely to get the final version on time at the end of the week. I use a lot of peer review.
  • I am also finding that making connections with students makes a big difference. If I reach out to those who are chronically late and just have a conversation and make that connection we can often discuss what is happening and why things are coming in late. They sometimes don't know where to find due dates or the calendar and that is an easy thing to fix.
  • Finally, I email students first thing after the due date i.e. Monday morning and let them know I did not find their work in the Dropbox. These quick friendly reminders are very helpful if they put it in Draft but did not Submit, or just plain forgot to submit it after their peer review. I usually have at least a couple more pieces of work after such an email.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Sir Ken Robinson gets it right again!

Sir Ken once again uses wit and intelligence to explain why our educational system is not working and how to fix it! Please take note of the need to invest in teachers, how children are suffering from a condition called childhood (not ADHD), how alternative education programs get it right, and why testing should not be the main focus of education. Bring back creativity, inspiration, diversity, expansive curriculums and more because our teachers and students are dying on the vine! I speak as an education professional who predicted all the failings of the testing movement which have come to pass including the horrendous drop-out rate and the bored minds of our students! Sir Ken gets it right! This should be mandatory viewing for everyone from legislators who think they know best about education, to administrators who think they must control schools, to parents who don't understand the underlying issues, and to teachers, who are tired of being deprofessionalized!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Class is cancelled... Not online!

A student in my Collaborative Communities class who teaches online, and is obviously, an online student wrote this in her weekly reflections... 

"As an instructor, I want to structure my class so that the students still have a life. As a student, I want to have a life. What is the best balance between discussion (and requiring students to participate throughout the week) and allowing students the flexibility they need and want from an online class?"

Here was my response with some added thoughts which came to me after I sent her the original response...

You have pointed out one of the difficulties of teaching online. We cannot just put a note on the door and say "Class is cancelled today." And I do understand that everyone needs a life.

This class (Collaborative Communities) is a little different in terms of expectations because we are trying to build the habits needed to be a successful online instructor after this course most of you will be doing the practicum. The instructor habits we want to instill in this course have everyone online and visible more than the students have to be in a regular class.

I have taught online for 11 years. I have been through a separation, then later a divorce. My mother died unexpectedly two years ago and my father has advanced Alzheimer's. Even though he is in a care facility it takes a lot of my time. So... how do I keep up with my duties and have a life (or a crisis). First of all in a worst case scenario I would first contact my incredible boss and friend Joan Vandervelde at UW-Stout for my courses there. She would post a note in my courses and then she would cover my discussions or ask another instructor to do so. A good choice for that coverage would be my co-author Lisa Chamberlin. I haven't ever had to ask either of them to do that but I know it is possible. I would handle other institutions for whom I work in a similar way.

At a crisis time, I would try to use my online time very judiciously, read the Q&A's to check for issues if I don't have time for anything else. I would read at least Q&A forums in every class every day. No matter what else is going on I stay current on email because I use my phone for emails.  Even in a crisis I would look at my email. Emails requiring a response I don't have time for right away get marked as Unread.

Sometimes I tell students by email or announcement about an issue, and sometimes I don't. I will say though that even in very serious times I have found that finding a quiet spot for just 30 minutes and checking the discussion boards gives me some peace and normality.

As a student all you need to do is tell the instructor the issue and I think all/most of them would waive deadlines or participation requirements. As an instructor you do what you can, or what you really have to do, and let the rest wait. There does come a time when you have to get caught up though. The longer you let it wait the more challenging it becomes to get caught up.

There is another discussion to be had about participation requirements in general and offering alternatives, that will be another posting.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Letter from the past

Cleaning out my parents' home for an estate sale this letter was found. Wow is all I can say!

Envelope image

Lt. Wm B. Johnson
Box 13
Columbus AFB, Miss.

Mr. & Mrs. Henry L. Vincent
1438 Modoc
Walla Walla, Washington
In my Grandmother's handwriting it says: Very Special

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23 January 1954
Dear Mom and Dad:
I know you will probably have some sort of stroke after receiving a letter from me, but I wanted to start the New Year off right by writing my yearly letter early. Just kidding, of course, but it really has been almost a year and a half since I've written a letter to you. It doesn't seem possible, but it is pretty damn close. I have always meant to write many times before, but Marj does very well in doing the correspondence -- just as she does everything else. She is really doing an exceptional job in her duties as vice-president of the wives club and as chairman for the March of Dimes. I am really proud of heer and I know you are also.

Both of us are anxious to get home and start farming and, of course, settle down in our own house. I really hope that you didn't receive the impression that we were not interested in the house, because we really are looking forward to 

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the time when we will be home. Not that I do not like the Air Force life, because that is wrong. I am interested in my job and am getting to appreciate the Air Force more all the time, but I still do no want to be in the AF longer than the two years.

Unfortunately the regulation mentioned in your last letter concerning Bud Roffler is strictly  a army regulation and still worse would not apply to me if the Air Force had one. Since by law we (ROTC officers) have to serve a minimum of 2 years.

Well time is drawing short and I had better sign off. But before I do there is one more thing I have to say. I hope you notice the first words of this letter, "Dear Mom and Dad," because I have really considered both of you to be the wonderful people that I would like to have for a mother and father. I am truly sorry for being so reticent when it comes to calling both of you by Mom & Dad, but those words have never been used by me that I can remember, so it has been

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something that I have been unduly slow about starting. I hope you understand what I mean because it is what I should have called you long ago. Both of you have been so wonderful and generous and I am very appreciative of all the things you have done for me.

All my love,

Monday, February 4, 2013

Separating your personal from professional online lives

I read an article today about an interesting topic, the writer was articulate and knowledgeable about online education. I decided this is someone worth following on Twitter (a decision I don't make lightly as you are about to see). As soon as Twitter pulled up her info I clicked Follow, before the feed even finished loading. Twitter shows you the most current postings by someone when you pull up their profile but my system was slow in loading the stream.

As I scrolled down I quickly saw this was not someone I wanted showing up in my professional Twitter stream. The messages went something like this:

  • Article about online learning and MOOC's at ...
  • Oh, honey I miss you so much, hurry back.
  • So sad you are leaving on your trip.
  • Article about math education and parent involvement at ...
  • Kissy, kissy what a nice morning we had, and we only fight about the little things.
All the personal messages to this person's significant other were mixed in with professional messages. The professional tweets were things I really might have found interesting but the ratio of personal to professional was much too high. In fact it was more personal than professional from what I could see, maybe 2:1 personal kissy, kissy messages.

My Twitter feed is my professional face, my brand, my forum to the eLearning and education worlds. Colleagues and students can count on mostly professional tweets with the occasional personal commentary. The ratio of my personal to professional messages is about 1:100. I think my followers can handle scrolling past the very occasional sports comment or shared recipe.

I have separate Facebook accounts for personal and professional uses as well, not so much because what I share on the personal side needs to be secret. I just don't think my professional colleagues care about my grandchildrens' antics. Those colleagues who are also friends of mine have been invited to both accounts. Students and most colleagues are only invited to the professional account. I also have separate blogs. There is this blog for professional writing (which needs to happen more often) and a personal blog for recipes, hobbies, and sharing personal angst.

What it really comes down to is respect for other peoples' time. My students and general colleagues don't have time to scroll through all my personal thoughts and shared images to find the gems about eLearning. I respect their time, and I respect my time enough to divest myself of folks on Twitter who don't understand the need to separate personal from professional streams. Needless to say, I unfollowed the person within minutes of following her.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Deeper conversations online than face-to-face

Today I expressed the opinion on Twitter that conversations and connections made in online classes are deeper and more layered than those which occur in face-to-face classes. Not only do I believe this strongly based on my experiences in online education as a student, designer, and instructor over the last 13 years but I have comments from many, many students to back this assertion up. I think a discussion of how and why this occurs may require more than one blog post so consider this the start of a conversation. Conducted online... hmmm

Let me start with that hmmm. Whomever is reading this post is now part of a conversation which I very likely never would have had in person. In fact this morning's Twitter exchange with two other educators would never have happened face-to-face, I have never been to the institutions represented by those in the conversation. Online you can connect with people you never would meet IRL (in real life). Online classes bring together a more diverse population than happens in most face-to-face settings. My student population in any particular class might inhabit 3, 4, or more countries all around the globe. Their ages, backgrounds, and culture are usually very diverse. The only thing they have in common is an interest in the topic being studied and an Internet connection.

Deeper conversations occur because of the tools we use in online courses. First picture a traditional classroom. The instructor has a set amount of time for the instructional activities and student questions before students set off for the next class. If Student A asks a question which takes 15 minutes of the discussion time then other members of the class may not get to ask their question at all. Or perhaps they ask it after class where they may get a hurried response other students do not hear and do not benefit from as part of the learning environment.

In an online asynchronous discussion every student can ask questions and get answers from the instructor. Other students can be a part of the discussion of all of those questions. The discussion occurs over a long period of time, such as a week, which allows time for further thought, research, and formulation of well-considered answers and responses. This deepening of the response is something I rarely experienced in face-to-face classes but it is a very regular part of discussions in my online classes. 

I am going to post this and start the conversation. In the meantime I am going to mull the other points rattling around in my brain. I am also going to gather quotes from students about how connected they feel to other students and instructors in online courses. This conversation is likely going to take some time. No bell is going to ring to stop the conversation at the end of a class session. That's not the way conversations happen online.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Up to All of Us - collecting the knowledge

My daughter @meganbowe helped the brilliant Aaron Silvers organize the Up To All of Us "unconference" which was held this past weekend. It was by invitation only. Just a small brain trust of very smart people were invited.

Here are some of the writing and resources which came out of the #utaou meetings. I followed along all weekend via the Twitter hashtag. Anything which includes meeting locations such as "at the firepit" or "by the creek" had to have been an awesome experience! I am envious!

Most of the people have something to do with instructional design but I will let Jay Cross explain this in the blog posting which is the first link

Great explanation of what they learned/how/worked on/why from @jaycross

Storify - collection of tweets from #utaou from @chambo_online

Backchannel resources curated by the wonderful @LnDDave