Thursday, December 30, 2010
Continuation of the Open Letter to University Administrators and HR Personnel:
Previously I detailed the cost-savings to the universities for whom I work as an online adjunct working at a distance. There are however myriad ways that I benefit from working at a distance. These help to mitigate the lack of benefits and resources of being an on-campus faculty member.
First of all, I can work from anywhere, anytime. If my best time of day is 4 AM that is when I do my course work. If I choose to work from my sofa or a coffee shop, I can do so. As long as my work is done regularly no one questions any aspect of my work attire, location, timing, etc. I don't have to cancel class because of a doctor's visit, I work before and after the appointment, or from the waiting room on my smartphone! My costs for attire are nil, literally I can teach in any stage or style of dress and no one ever knows. My costs for broadband and wireless are my own to bear but if I choose to take off to New York to see the grandchildren I can work from the airport, in the air with on-board wifi, and from the apartment once the grandchildren have been spoiled and are off to bed. My laptop and I have worked from Edinburgh, London, Maui, San Diego, San Antonio, New York, Philadelphia and other locales.
The workload varies by day, week, month, and time of year and I can balance the rest of my life around the work. Some days I have a lot of grading or course site preparation and must work for 6 or 8 hours. On other days I answer emails and respond to discussion boards in less than an hour with the rest of the day at my disposal.
My work can be done on my choice of equipment. Whether Mac or PC, smartphone or tablet, desktop or laptop; the equipment and software are my own. As long as I can access the course sites I can use any equipment and browser I like.
There are few if any staff meetings which I must attend. This varies with the university, a few do have web-based meetings which require attendance but these are always archived and can be accessed at a later time if I cannot attend online at the stated day/time. For the most part it can be said, there are no staff meetings, no committee meetings, and no one popping into my office to talk, or summoning me to their office on demand. The few administrators whom I deal with are truly wonderful people who fully understand the unique nature of online learning, and the student population in our courses. We keep in touch by phone or email. These fine administrators work very hard on behalf of all the eLearning faculty and insulate us from the many periphereal issues swirling around on campus which don't impact our courses.
When I explain what I do and how I do it to people they tell me I have a dream job. And I do! I know I do. Do I think universities are making money off me as a distance educator? Yes! Would I trade this and go back to faculty meetings, face-to-face sessions at specific times, parking, traffic, dealing with office mates, and being tied to one location for a whole semester? No! Never! I do love my dream job and I know that with every job comes a few drawbacks.
It works because I've made it work. I've curated a full time job by piecing together courses from several institutions, freelance-style, within an educational industry that has yet to figure out what its going to be when it grows up and become technologically self-aware. I am one of number of the early adopter online faculty - there are more like me scattered about, in coffee shops and home offices. For now, we are pioneers, but that status is rapidly changing.
Now... back to answering student emails from my sofa in front of the fireplace while still wearing my pajamas at 9 AM.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Open letter to University administrators and human resources personnel who have adjunct instructors working at a distance:
I am the faceless, nearly nameless, person teaching tens, if not hundreds, of students for you each year via your online courses. Since I never set foot on your campus and in fact probably live hundreds or thousands of miles away, I am saving you a lot of money. Clearly I am saving you money when compared to tenured faculty but even compared to the meager existence of a local on-campus adjunct, the saving from my work is substantial.
For clarity's sake let me define who I am since you probably don't know me at all. I teach online courses via my own computer from my home. You pay me by course, or by student. This is my full-time job but I work for several universities in order to earn a full-time income. And following this rant about how much I am saving you, I will detail the benefits gained by working as an online adjunct.
Like most adjuncts face-to-face or online you likely do not pay me any benefits. No insurance costs or pension fund contributions must be funded on my behalf. Sick leave doesn't apply in my world, nor does paid vacations or holidays. My courses do not close because I am laid up with the flu, I cannot close the course site and say 'take the day off' and I cannot ask someone to cover my class and teach it for me because of illness or injury. I teach from my sick bed, and while on vacation, and over holidays. In fact graduate students in online courses tend to do more work and ask more questions over holidays, weekends, and during traditional vacation times because they have extra time for their coursework. And I cannot even imagine a scenario where I would file an L and I claim for injuries sustained on the job.
There is no physical classroom to be provided for myself or the students. No utilities to be paid, equipment, furnishings, or physical presence to be maintained. In fairness you do pay for a learning management system where my course is housed. I have no idea what the balance in costs is between a physical classroom and the cost of one course on a learning management system so perhaps this is a fair trade.
No office space, even office space shared with other adjuncts, must be provided. You don't provide a computer or Internet access for me to do lesson planning, grading, or other teaching functions which require electronics. I provide my own equipment, keep my software up-to-date, use my own phone for calls to students, and pay for my Internet access while at home and on the road. Some universities do offer discounts on software or reimbursement for phone calls and postage. The hassle of filling out your paper forms and mailing them to you with receipts to get reimbursed isn't worth my time.
You have no costs for meetings or professional development. I have not consumed a cup of coffee brewed by your staff during a meeting because there are no meetings. And rarely is any professional development offered to online adjuncts. A few offers to audit a class are just about the only costs for PD that you have incurred for me.
You may offer technical support to help me with media creation, troubleshooting, and other issues but I usually figure things out on my own with the help of my PLN. To be honest your technical support people often assume a level of digital stupidity that takes so long to dispel it is easier to figure things out on my own. One does not teach online without some level of competency using a computer and Internet-based tools.
To summarize, I earn few, if any, benefits. I don't get health insurance, take sick leave, or get paid vacation. You don't have to provide a parking spot, chair, desk, or a light bulb. I don't eat doughnuts at meetings or run off 20 copies of a 10 page syllabus. I do provide excellent service to your students and take pride in doing so. Perhaps you should thank me for my generosity and willingness to teach online courses in your institution.
Instead, for this excellent customer service, you continue to spam my inbox with email about local face to face meetings, policies, and politics; none of which have ever applied to me. I am your ever-growing future workforce...it is high time you figure out who and where I am.
Monday, November 8, 2010
We are definitely a learning society now. All of us are learning new things all the time. Gone are the days when we graduated from HS/college and never took a class again. Gone are the days when someone showed you how to do your job and then you did it for 35 years and retired. Gone are the days when a doctor gave you your diagnosis and you accepted it without question, and you looked to the doctor for all information about your issue and the treatment.
The current generation accepts all this as a given. They have never known anything else. They are constantly researching things and looking things up. They do not look to authorities as the purveyors of all knowledge. For them authorities are the people who start the process of learning something new. They would have looked at the postings which confused you and gone to the Internet and read blogs and wikis, and asked questions in forums.
The older generations are somewhere in between depending on age and outlook. They go for retrainings for new jobs/positions (grudgingly) and they do look up some things but they still look to authorities for the 'right' answer and often take in information without question.
Friday, November 5, 2010
My son is a farmer. He has a college degree in agriculture. Much of what he learned in college does apply, especially to finances etc. however because of changes in machinery some of his best training comes from years of playing video games.
His $400K harvester is run using a handheld joystick. It connects with a GPS mapping system which takes in data about the yields in every spot in every field. He watches the GPS monitor occasionally pushing buttons and changing the data he is viewing while looking at the real-time view outside the window. He glances back and forth from what he sees in the fields to the monitor with GPS info.
Even 10 years ago the harvester was operated with foot pedals and a steering wheel and there was no monitor of any kind, not GPS mapping, or yields, or even a real gauge for how full the tank of grain had become except for a window behind the farmer's head.
Every time I am in the machine with him I laugh thinking about how I used to berate him to stop wasting his time playing video games. That was actually part of his educational experience preparing him for his work as an adult. Very little of what he learned in K-12 applies to his day-to-day life. His high school didn't use technology at all, I had to visit a classroom with him one day with my projector from my middle school classroom so he could show a PowerPoint for a project!
College was more geared to what he does now and did use technology, this is where he mastered the GPS mapping systems they now use on the farm.
However it is his own self-training with video games which helps him run the harvester; and our use of computers at home to prepare him for the aspects of farming which are now Internet-based (ordering parts for repairs for example) which provided much of the training for what he does now.
If I walked into his old high school classrooms right now, ten years later, I would see the same teachers, teaching without technology, standing and delivering the same messages.
The world has changed! When will we catch up?
Monday, June 14, 2010
Chunking the Content in eLearning
My area of specialty is online learning in particular, online learning for adults. Chunking is particularly important for these students for a couple of reasons. One reason is because they often can access the course for short spans of time, or they get interrupted while learning online. Chunked content lets them use short time spans effectively. Untimely interruptions don't have as large a detrimental effect on retention of the concepts when information is chunked.
Another reason for chunking content in online learning is we know people will only scroll so far on a webpage. Putting no more than 1 or, at most, two screens of information in front of them means the designer has a better shot at getting the learner to read everything. If the learning management system is cumbersome and creating separate pages for each chunk is not reasonable then adding headings and white space in between chunks can offer similar results for readability.
Chunking in Middle School
All of the above has been common knowledge to me for quite some time. In fact, when still teaching 8th grade I knew I could only give them so much at a time because their minds could only stay focused on the course materials for so long before they were off thinking about something else. At that time, I didn't know I was chunking the content... but that is what I was doing.
Chunking the Timeline
My new thought for the day is something a little different. I realize now we also need to chunk the timeline of activities in eLearning. Let me give you two examples happening over the last few days which helped me arrive at this new epiphany.
In one activity students were to find a partner, share their work for the week with one another, edit it, send it back to the author, and then the author would revise and post their assignment. (5 steps)
In another activity students were to post questions they wanted to pose to a guest expert, then the instructor was to create a poll or survey of the questions, and students were to vote on their top 6 question. (3 steps)
Each of the activities required multi-steps to occur and they both required actions by a second party, either a fellow student or the instructor. However, much as we would like to believe all our adult learners are devoted to the course and they log onto the course site and their email daily... this just isn't the case. Many adult students are very busy people. Some of them are one-nighters.
One-nighters are folks who sit down at their computer and try to do all the readings, complete all the assignments and activities, do all the discussions, and any other required course elements in one long sitting. While this isn't best practice, for some of them this is the best they can do. In fact, this is why some of them are not in traditional courses. They need this flexibility to 'do it all' in one sitting.
Face-to-face Chunking the Timeline
In face-to-face classes the instructional designer and instructor chunk the timeline for the students. "You have 2 min. to find a partner who shares your interest, you then have 10 min. to discuss this..." Steps are sequential and the timing is a part of the course session. As noted above, this is not how online learning works, esp. not for our one-nighter population.
Chunking the Timeline Theory into Practice
I do not advocate writing eLearning courses as if every student is a one-nighter. We do know that it is not best practice for students to do one-nighters. However, there are ways to take into account that the population includes one-nighters.
Separate the steps into different modules. In the case of the partner activity, finding a partner should occur prior to the assignment being given. In the case of the survey or poll the posting of questions should happen in one module, then the survey should occur in the next.
Offer workspaces. Whenever students are expected to work together in online learning, whenever possible, offer them a group workspace. This helps eliminate the issue of student-to-student emails ending up in Junk Mail etc. Most LMS now offer some way to create group workspaces. If not, use Web2.0 tools, or ask the students to do so. There are tons of ways to work collaboratively online. (Working collaboratively online needs to be a separate blog posting. Look for that one in the future.)
Yours in ignorance
While I do know about chunking the timeline, I still have my moments of ignorance when I think all the learners will be logging in daily, checking email, working throughout the entire module. This is ignorant thinking on my part.
Friday, April 16, 2010
The point of peer review is not just to make a colleague feel validated about what is good in their work. Certainly a good critique does point out what is done well. However if all the reviewer does is say "This is great, very interesting topic" their colleague has no idea how to improve their project/writing.
What I suggest to learners is to try the sandwich method. Offer a kind or positive comment, then offer suggestions for improvements, then end with something positive.
I have learned as an educator that peer reviewers often need an explanation of what it means to peer review the work of others, and they need tools to assist them. If there is a rubric/checklist for the assignment, reviewers can use this as a baseline for their review. If there isn't a rubric (there should be!) the teacher can explain what they will look for in grading the assignment.
I used peer review very successfully when teaching 8th grade and it works equally well with adult learners... once you get them past the point where they are endlessly positive and much too polite. I believe in stating things politely but there has to be some meat in a review. One way to remain polite and still offer good critical comments is to ask questions. "I was reading this section and I am not sure what is meant by the acronym XYZ. Can you explain this to me? Your readers may need this explain too."
Peer review has many positive aspects. First of all, the more a student helps others, the more they will learn themselves! Critiques require critical thinking about the form and substance of the work being reviewed, this critical thinking is then almost always applied back to the reviewer's own work. Reviewing also allows new eyes to see the minor errors which might be overlooked by the author of the work. Peer reviewing also builds community among the learners. Trust is needed when putting work out to be reviewed and when accepting reviews from others. Trust is a key element in building a learning community. Community is what it is all about!
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
As an online educator having a guest speaker is a much easier exercise and a best practice which should be used frequently. The expert can be sent the questions in advance and answer them asynchronously in a wiki or in an email; or synchronously in a live event which can then be recorded for students who are unable to attend.
Recently our University of Wisconsin-Stout Trends and Issues in Instructional Design course sections were privileged to have as guest speakers Cammy Bean and Christy Tucker. Their interviews have been saved and are available for everyone to read. Instructional Designer Interviews Additional experts in instructional design will be guest speakers for upcoming classes and their interviews will be showcased here as well. Students were thrilled to have their questions answered by real instructional designers, especially designers of this caliber! What a privilege for our Instructional Design certificate program students to be able to ask questions of Cammy Bean or Christy Tucker!
Experts who would not or could not visit a traditional classroom are often able and willing to be guest speakers at a distance. In fact there needs to be a new term for experts who visit online or traditional classrooms from a distance asynchronously or synchronously. What would it be, any suggestions?
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
I teach at a university in the Midwest in the graduate and undergraduate programs in elementary social studies education. A friend recently sent me an online article titled Laptops vs. Lectures: Let's Ban Lectures! found at http://link.social.com/c/twitter/1349941/1268664428/b/cTEW0S/b8E8RD
In this article the author, Mike Elgan asserts, "Lecturing professors nowadays face a room full of students paying full attention -- to their laptops. One science professor achieved minor YouTube fame recently when a video surfaced showing him freezing a student's laptop in liquid nitrogen, then smashing it on the floor. The professor commanded: "Don't bring laptops and work on them in class!" (I wonder how many university students watched that video during class.) A lecture, by definition, is a method of teaching whereby a person talks and an audience pays attention. But a laptop is an interruption machine that fragments attention. Lectures and laptops are incompatible activities.........."
I teach all of my graduate courses online and my undergrad courses in a computer lab. My response to Elgan is summarized in the following paragraphs:
I don't think teaching is either/or--either computers or lectures. There will always be the place for a really good lecturer. Most professors however (me included), are not all that good at lecturing. I'm fine as long as I am giving directions about procedures or explaining concepts. But delivering a powerful and breathtaking monologue on the importance of the American Revolution, isn't my forte.
So..........teaching in a computer lab I start class with an announcement--"two-minute warning to close down your personal email, Facebook, MySpace, etc." Then I ask students to find the syllabus and the web page that supports the topic for the day. While I'm introducing the topic I ask them use their little Google search box several times to keep them doing something while I'm talking. The questions all depend on the topic.
For example, we were addressing teaching and learning history the other day. I had them Google "American history timeline". The first link up was a long convoluted timeline that isn't a story at all but rather an index of dates drawn from American history. So I asked my students to look over the timeline to find a story. They couldn't find one. They found pictures of presidents and dates and events. Then I talked about the Declaration of Independence. Who wrote it? We Googled it to confirm Jefferson as the author. I told them the story of Thomas Jefferson going to his grave angry at Congress for excising text from his original draft of the Declaration. We Googled images of the original draft and found lines crossed out, etc. I asked them how they might use this document from history with their students when teaching writing. Then I told them a couple stories about Jefferson in Paris and how Abigail Adams kept a running correspondence with him. More Googling........and giggling. She and TJ didn't always agree on everything. I asked the students to find the name of the woman who was TJ's mistress for a brief time while living in Paris--not Sally Hemings. That led to discussion about history and story. I keep a thread of continuity moving through the class period while at the same time following a few rabbit trails here and there, partly because it's the nature of the WWW. One idea links to another.
To demonstrate the connectedness of history I send my students in pairs to the Yahoo homepage. They are to identify a news issue for the day--important or trivial--to see if they can make six or more leaps of free association traveling through history and geography--TIME and SPACE.. Example: Yahoo--1) Lindsay Lohan's house in Los Angeles is burglarized; 2) Movie stars were the object of the McCarthy investigations in the 1950s; 3) McCarthyism was an artifact of the Cold War era where the US and the USSR were competitors for world dominance; 4) The Soviet Union started in 1917; 5) the Russian Revolution of 1917 was led by Lenin; 6) John Lennon (homophone) was part of a different kind of revolution, a cultural revolution of the 60s and 70 in the West that eventually spread to the entire world..........etc. Students use Internet resources to confirm information they believe to be true or to complete partial understandings about historical facts. This activity takes about 5 minutes but uses the power of the Internet to rapidly access information to connect one fact with another, one location to another. History is fundamentally about connections over time and space. Unfortunately history teaching is usually reduced to the study of an historical indexing system (dates) with little if any story. My students get the picture.
I am very clear with them regarding my expectations. While in class, they are not to be on unrelated sites such as Facebook or their personal email. But if I maintain enough interactive work with the computers, there's no problem. I also grovel a bit telling them that I have a very fragile ego and if I even suspect they are not finding my class to be the pinnacle of academic inspiration, I go sleepless that night. So I ask them to pleeeeeeeeeease help me sleep by paying attention in class and not doing Facebook while I'm talking or giving directions.
I give a lot of spontaneous "let's find out....." questions during class. Almost any topic can be connected to another about which we may want to find more information. If I see students begin to look tired, I crank up the searches. I don't ever want to teach F2F without computers again. One of my classes this semester is scheduled for Tuesdays and Thursdays but only with computers on Thursdays. I've substituted a lot of F2F Tuesday classes with online independent activities because I can do very little of value in a room where I'm talking in front of a screen. It's a paradigm shift I don't think I can undo. It's hard to put the toothpaste back into the tube.
"Just remember.........If we're not having fun (online), it must not be social studies."
Monday, March 15, 2010
I truly hope the professor issued the unwired challenge AND THEN passed along some interesting and challenging activities for the students to do during their hiatus from the wired world. I hope students were involved in exciting learning opportunities they might have otherwise overlooked. Because if all the professor did was say, you cannot use wired devices period, leaving the students with nothing more than that challenge I can guess the true results. Undoubtedly today's college students became even more convinced that the non-wired world is a boring wasteland and those who live in a non-wired world are antiquarians.
If there are valid reasons to unplug from the wired world make clear what those reasons are and engage the learners. If all you want to do is show them you can unplug and they cannot you have just shown them once again that you do not understand their world and you never will, and you therefore are really not worth their time.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Yesterday I saw a message requesting proposals for book chapters posted in a discussion group on LinkedIn. I belong to several groups on LinkedIn, the particular one where I saw the message was Technology-Using Professors. The message was actually 10 days old and the deadline for proposals had passed but I went ahead and made contact with the gentleman anyway.
Between yesterday and today a flurry of emails went back and forth between the gentleman Charles Wankel, my co-author (and partner in all things non-criminal) Lisa Chamberlin and I. As of this afternoon we will be writing a chapter for a book entitled Higher Education and Social Media. Our chapter will be about the use of Twitter in higher education. I also got a minor teaching job off one of the job boards on LinkedIn a couple months ago.
My point is... There is great value in spending a few minutes a week maintaining your professional networks. I actually had not been on LinkedIn in a few weeks and nearly missed this opportunity. If you are not on LinkedIn, you really should be. This is not the only professional networking site to which I belong but LinkedIn is a highly varied collection of people and widely used by business folks. LinkedIn is definitely not just for educators.
Here is what I just sent to the teachers, now sharing with everyone!
Here are a few resources of video sites which may not hit the filters like YouTube does. I have tons and tons of resources in all sorts of areas and a lot of experience incorporating technology effectively into education. Draw on me whenever you like for ideas and resources. Many of my Twitter messages are education technology related. If you are a Twitter user follow me as kay_lehmann and watch for messages marked #edtech
http://www.teachertube.com/ (Definitely a go-to resource for every teacher who wants to use video in their lessons)
http://www.nibipedia.com/index.html (This is new to me, I haven't used it yet so check it out carefully)
http://www.ted.com/ (This is a resource I keep meaning to dive deeper into and haven't, great talks by great people)
OK, this is one of my fav blogs because it starts with my fav word, free! Free Technology for Teachers by Richard Byrne is a great resource. Here is his list of 30+ alternatives to YouTube
Thursday, March 11, 2010
I do a lot of learning these days because I am a regular user of Twitter follow me as @kay_lehmann and as the moderator for a weekly Twitter-based chat about eLearning as @distedchat
I really only use Twitter for professional connections and only follow people who are interested in education (except for two cooking folks). I believe strongly that we all need to have a personal learning network. However I realize many of you don't know where to start. First, let me share my Delicious links with you, you can view my links at: http://delicious.com/onlineteach The links are searchable by keyword and do search because otherwise you will be lost in an incredible maze of diverse links.
I suggest you also read this article http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/2637a8ed#/2637a8ed/12
and find the ways to build your social learning environment which work for you. What works for you won't work for others and vice-versa.
As a wise teacher (follow him on Twitter as @budtheteacher AKA Bud Hunt) said in a webinar last night, "If it feels icky, Stop!" meaning, if you don't want to be on Facebook, Twitter or other sites, don't. That is your choice!
However there are so many ways to learn now, and so many ways to stay up-to-date and connected that I advise you to try a few and then, if they feel icky, Stop! But give some of them a try first! I resisted Twitter for years and am sorry that I missed out on so many great articles and insights!
Thursday, February 25, 2010
A recent discussion thread in an online facilitation course concerned the topic of students not reading early communications such as the Welcome email or the syllabus and then not knowing how to proceed. Here is the response I wrote.
Here are some ideas we have used in various courses for trying to make sure students read important information.
If the Welcome letter is sent via email ask them to reply to the message. This is a good way to
- establish early contact
- make sure their email is working
- begin to train them on how to write good subject lines for their messages
Mention the Welcome letter in an announcement or Q&A posting and ask students if they received it.
Have a quiz during the first week, an easy one, which 'tests' them on the letter or the syllabus. This one has worked really well for me. The quiz 'tests' them on the very things students always used to ask me, "When are assignments due?" for example. I rarely get those questions now.
Have you ever talked with someone who was snippy and seemed short-tempered? Not fun, is it? Such conversations make us want to end the conversation as quickly as possible and move on, would you agree?
There is something about words on a page or a screen which come across with something akin to that kind of tone unless we work hard at softening the message. Obviously as an online facilitator the last thing we want is for our students to end conversations with us and move away as quickly as possible. So having a terse, or snippy tone in our communications is not what we want.
One way to note if your tone is too short-tempered is to imagine a f2f conversation with someone. What elements of a 'real' conversation are not part of your online communication? Add those into your text-based conversations. I am prone to short, almost snippy answers. As a busy person, I answer the question that is asked. However, I have learned to go back and re-read and picture myself in a f2f situation. What would I say in person that I haven't said here?
Finding your voice and adjusting your tone is a key part of being a successful facilitator.
Thanks for asking a great question!