Tidbits, Resources, and Discussion for ELI Faculty

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Become a VCCS Certified Online Instructor

Here's an announcement from Joan Trabandt (our Coordinator of Instructional Design and Development). I hope you will give it serious consideration as a useful professional development activity for the summer, whether you are new to distance learning or quite experienced. Please also feel free to share this announcement with campus colleagues who might be interested in teaching for ELI in the future and would like to use the course as an initial training and preparatory experience.


Have you wondered how to improve your skills for teaching online? A six-week VCCS-sponsored online course is being offered this summer (May 27-July 8) in which you can participate as a student, collaborating with other teaching faculty from across the VCCS. In the course, you will:
  • learn techniques for managing your online teaching time
  • practice facilitating discussion forums effectively
  • discuss strategies to enhance the instructor's social presence in online courses
  • be introduced to several technologies which increase student participation
  • experience 1-2 synchronous (virtual) sessions, helping you assess their value in an online course
  • participate in online learning yourself, helping you better understand your students' experiences in your course

This pilot offering of the Teaching Online Project (TOP) course is available free (including free textbook) to any NOVA faculty member, full-time or adjunct, who has experience using Blackboard. At least five hours a week is expected in order to do the required readings, participate in the discussion forums, complete the e-portfolio assignment, and participate in the synchronous, virtual meetings. Upon satisfactory completion of the course, many VCCS colleges will recognize you as a VCCS Certified Online Instructor.

For more information or to sign up for the course, contact Joan at jtrabandt@nvcc.edu or (703) 323-3513. The deadline to sign up is Friday, May 9.

Monday, April 28, 2008

VCCS Innovative Faculty Distribution List

The VCCS has just begun an email discussion list, the Innovative Faculty Distribution List, to provide a forum for faculty across the VCCS to discuss new techniques and technologies, especially with regard to online learning.

The list will be moderated, so you won't receive out-of-office messages, off-topic messages, etc. like you do with some lists.

If you'd like to subscribe, visit:


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Please Vote!

I've been pleased to hear from many of you lately that you are reading and enjoying the blog. Many more of you are reading than are commenting--which is pretty standard for blogs. Lots of lurkers, and a few steady commenters. I hope that more of you will join in the conversation over time--at least on the issues and questions that interest you most strongly. You can always post your comment anonymously if you're not comfortable putting your name with your comment at this point.

For now, commenters and lurkers alike--please vote in the poll on the left side of the screen to help me start thinking about how we're doing with the student course evaluations. If you want to share comments about why you voted the way you did, what other options I should have included but didn't, or anything else about the evaluations, you can post them to this blog entry.

And, note that you can select more than one of the options in the poll, if appropriate.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Other ELI Faculty

Wise ELI faculty... give me your advice. It's time to plan our new faculty orientation for folks who will teach for ELI for the first time this summer. (If any of you new folks are already reading--welcome!) There are policies, procedures, and special ELI terminology I will go over; we'll introduce some key staff and overview who does what and where to go for help on different sorts of problems. We'll do some Blackboard training targeted to supplement the existing competencies of the individuals coming for training. This all needs to be covered one way or another. And we'll of course feed them. This is ELI, after all!

But--here's where I'd like your thoughts and suggestions. What did you really like about your ELI orientation, or another orientation you've been through, that you think I should give our new folks? Or, what have you particularly DISLIKED about past orientations you've participated in (ELI or otherwise) that I should avoid? And most importantly, what is there about teaching at ELI, and/or teaching a distance learning course in general, that you wish you had known when you started out? I want to start our new colleagues on their ELI experiences with as many pieces of wisdom as possible.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Blackboard 8 (no, I'm not kidding) Grade Center

Several of us were chagrined to hear at New Horizons not only about Blackboard 8 coming up, but also Blackboard NINE. Sigh... I know I am not the only one still getting used to Blackboard 7 (and wishing that some of the changes hadn't been made in the first place!).

At any rate, the VCCS needs to plan for when and how to transition us to BB8. (I understand that this will be at least a year away, so don't panic!) As part of this effort, Inez Farrell, VCCS Director of Instructional Technology, has sent us a link to a site with a short video on the new Grade Center (formerly called the Gradebook) feature in BB8, and she would like to hear faculty feedback to help her plan for the transition.

If you're interested in previewing BB8 and/or giving some feedback to the VCCS, visit:


On the left, you can click "Overview" and/or "Grade Center" to learn about some of the new features. Then post your comments here in our blog and I'll share them with Inez so that the VCCS hears your voices on this.

Friday, April 18, 2008

SALT conference in Arlington this year

Nan Peck alerted me today to the fact that this year's SALT conference (SALT = Society for Applied Learning Technology) is in Arlington. This means that although the registration fees are a bit pricey, we won't incur travel or hotel expenses to attend this conference, so it's a relatively inexpensive professional development opportunity. It is always useful to hear and see what colleagues around the nation are doing--too often, we only know what we're doing at NOVA, or what we're doing in the VCCS (and also too often, we don't even know those things, but that is the subject of another post entirely!).

I'd suggest that you take a look at the conference homepage (http://www.salt.org/dc/washingtonP.asp) and the conference program (click "Program by Track" on the left and then look at the presentations for each track you're interested in). If you're interested in attending, talk to your Dean to see if s/he can fund your attendance.

There are discounts for groups attending from the same government organization, so if you want to attend and your Dean approves it, let me know so that I can register us all together. Please let me know by Sunday, May 11, so that I have time to do the signups and get us early-bird registrations in addition to the group discount.

I know that the conference, because it takes place August 20-22, will be very inconvenient for those of you teaching campus classes that will have just started. But I know many of you teach mostly or all for ELI, or teach campus hybrid courses, so you may have the flexibility to attend.

I look forward to hearing of your interest!

Edited to add: We have to get permission from Dr. Templin to have more than a certain number (3, I think) of people attend the same conference. I think I can make a good case in this instance, but I just wanted to clarify that I can't promise we can all attend even if we have the funds. But, see if you're interested, see if your Dean can fund you, let me know of your interest, and then I'll work on getting us permission.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Procrastination in Online Courses

In the comments section of my April 11 entry, Don Gregory posted some interesting things he learned at New Horizons about procrastination and how often our students are actually telling the truth when they give us excuses about why they have not, or cannot, complete their work. Based on your experiences and observations, do you think the information the New Horizons speaker gave us accurate? If so, what should we do about it?

This research finding is particularly salient to me, since as a young and female instructor, I have at least two of the three characterstics this research shows will leads students to be more likely to lie to me. I have always taken the approach, though, that although I know some students will lie to me, I'd rather give students the benefit of the doubt (when it seems reasonable) and allow a student or two to squeak through on a lie, than to be really strict and fail to accommodate someone who really needs it. This reseach may indicate that my students can read me like a book and are taking advantage of this approach. What's your philosophy on striking a balance between lenience and strictness?

And on the subjecct of procrastination, which is also importantly related to our discussion of deadlines begun in my April 15 post, you might be interested in this article:


It's a graduate student's reflections on her online learning experiences, focused on why she procrastinated so much more in her online courses than her face-to-face ones, and what she suggests online teachers do about it. Does the article give you any insight into what your students are thinking, or into what you might do to help them avoid procrastination?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Deadlines and Distance Learning

Over the years, philosophies about imposing deadlines within ELI courses have changed. It's my understanding that in the early days, Incompletes were given quite freely and so students basically had two semesters to complete a course. More recently, we've had several deadline dates we've asked students to complete certain work by (the Inactive Students Dropped date and the Last Withdrawal Date), although each instructor chose how much to require at each date.

Even more recently, some faculty have made their courses much more like campus courses, with students required to meet much more frequent deadlines for submitting assignments (sometimes even more than one deadline per week). The idea with these changes is that given leeway, students (like most people!) will put their work off and end up not being successful (because they rush to get it all done at the end, or because they never manage to get caught up at all), so by imposing deadlines, we force them to move along and thereby increase student success. Forcing deadlines also means everyone in the class is at the same place in the course material, so that you can do synchronous activities if you choose to, and also means that asynchronous discussion forums are richer--students can actually interact with each other if they all participate in the discussion during the same week rather than spread over 3 months.

I know that some of you have very strong views on both sides of this issue. Laura Shulman (who teaches religion courses for ELI) has asked how many ELI courses use regular deadlines, and it's a question I can't answer except to say that we are moving toward more and more of them doing so. Please share what you do with regard to deadlines and why.

Some questions I'm pondering as I think about this issue: why should a distance course be different from a campus course? It is very rare for a campus course to allow students to be self-paced. Why would a distance course be so? Since most of us communicate with students electronically now, there's no mailing delay to work around. Is it because we believe distance students need more lenience? If so, is that fair to other students? Is it because distance students have busier lives than campus students? If so, do we really know that, or are we assuming it? (We certainly know they are busy--but many of our campus students are, too.) And more generally, what should our focus here be--flexibility, or student success? Do we necessarily sacrifice one to provide the other?

I'm looking forward to your comments, here--especially as I finish my course revisions for summer in the next few days. I know I'm adding some deadlines to my course beyond what I have now (just Inactive Students Dropped and LWD), but I am still making my final decisions about how many deadlines to add and where.

So--have at it! :)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Shift Happens

Thanks to everyone who has posted a comment about what you'd like to discuss with your colleagues. You'll see the topics you've suggested--all of which are interesting and important--appearing in upcoming blog posts, and I am really looking forward to seeing what folks have to say about them. And keep on replying to that post if you think of other topics you'd like to discuss!

Meanwhile, I thought I'd share something that several of us saw at New Horizons last week. It's an 8-minute PowerPoint presentation of interesting facts and statistics about globalization, technology, and what our world is like today. People seemed to really like it, so I wanted to pass it along for all of you who were not there. You can see it on YouTube at:


After you watch it, let us know what you think. If this describes our world today, how can/should it shape what, and how, we teach our students?

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Blogging Experiment

As I've met and corresponded with many of you since I became Director of ELI nearly 3 months ago (how the time has flown!), I've often heard from you that you want more interaction with other ELI faculty. Some of you who are ELI old-timers told me you miss the days when faculty would work at ELI, because it gave you a chance to catch up, share problems, and get advice and ideas from each other. Others of you are too new to ELI to have experienced those times, but you have told me that you wonder whether other faculty have the same challenges you do in your course, that you wish you knew more about how other ELI courses work, and that you don't really feel a sense of community with your ELI colleagues.

All of this is difficult to remedy with limited space at ELI, Northern Virginia traffic, and the many responsibilities that keep all of us from taking much time to sit and talk to colleagues even when we are in the same place. (For those of you who teach on campus, I'm betting that you rarely have detailed discussions with your hallmates about pedagogy, even though they're right there with you several days a week.)

So let's try an experiment. Here's a blog for us to use as one spot for developing some community. I will post interesting links, articles, and information I come across, and will pose questions and issues I hope you'll find engaging. You'll do the rest, using the comments sections to dialogue with each other. If this is useful and it catches on (whether among a small group, or a lot of you), great. If it's not useful, we'll send it off to the blog graveyard and find other ways of coming together to help each other teach better online.

Let's start with this question for discussion: what topics do you want me to post on? Or in other words, what issues, problems, questions, etc. do you want to hear from your colleagues about in this forum?

I look forward to hearing from you.