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!

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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.