Tidbits, Resources, and Discussion for ELI Faculty

Thursday, June 26, 2008

How Would You Use a Blog in Teaching?

Blogs and wikis are all the rage these days in people's talk about using technology in teaching. In my experience, everyone throws these out as suggestions (usually along with podcasting...), but they usually aren't very concrete about HOW one might use them in a course, and what benefits they might have. Can we think together about this a bit? (Folks who participated in Charlie Evans' Digital Humanities Seminar this year--please share what you learned!)

Let's start with blogs. How could you use a blog in an ELI course? Here are some things I can think of:
  • Each student could be required to create and keep a blog in which to record thoughts about course material, current events and other course-related items with analytical commentary, reading responses, etc. Other students could be required to post comments to classmates' blogs. (Devil's advocate: how is this any different from what many of us do in Blackboard, having students post short papers or analyses and having classmates comment on them?)
  • The professor could keep a course blog (or a blog for all her/his courses combined--in other words, something like "Dr. Lerner's Sociology Blog" rather than "Dr. Lerner's Soc 266 Blog"), posting relevant news items, pop culture examples, youtube clips, etc. with short analysis. Students could be encouraged, and/or required or incentivized, to comment on the blog or write guest posts.
  • The professor could set up a class blog (either public, or private so that only the students in the class could see it) in which students take turns posting something, and other students have to comment. This would be like the online equivalent of, in f2f classes, requiring a different student each week to be prepared to start the discussion on a text or other course materials. (Devil's advocate: again, couldn't you do this just as well in a Blackboard discussion forum? What's new here about what blogs have to offer teaching and learning?)

What else could you do with a blog in your teaching? Have you used blogs in your classes (as a teacher or a student)? How did you use them, and how well did it work?

Monday, June 23, 2008

And now for something completely different...

If I may step away from ELI and distance learning issues for a moment, I'd love to hear your thoughts and advice on something else.

Next spring, I'll be teaching a graduate course for UVa (EDLF 762, Sociology of Education). It'll be really fun to teach a grad course for the first time, to teach for my undergraduate alma mater, and to spend some time working with the areas of the literature I used in my dissertation but don't get to engage much when teaching at the freshman/sophomore level here at NOVA.

So here's my question: what were the key characteristics of the best graduate courses you took? I certainly have my own ideas about what worked, and what didn't, in my own graduate studies, but I'm curious about what suggestions you all might have to help me as I craft my syllabus.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Here's something to make us all shudder

Debbie Naquin (ENG, LO) pointed me to the following short article from yesterday's Chronicle of Higher Education:


There are many of these sorts of changes afoot in higher education--all kinds of ways to vastly reduce faculty time spent teaching. (Another example you might not all be aware of is the Virginia Tech Math Emporium, where students spend much of the time they would normally spend in math class working problems at a computer in a gymnasium, and calling a tutor over for one-on-one help when needed.) In some cases, folks who advocate these types of changes suggest that student learning is just as good either way and that the models that take up less faculty time leave faculty more time to do other work (committee work, research and publishing, advising, etc.). Others, I suspect, are concerned more with money, either with saving it or with making it (as in the case of StraighterLine).

I find myself torn about these kinds of projects. Of course, as a teacher, I believe that teachers and their ongoing interactions with students make a difference--just working through the materials independently and seeking a few hours of tutoring is not the same learning, even if it is difficult to quantify, or even articulate, what the teacher adds to the equation. (This is not even to mention the value of interaction with other students, which we seek in ELI courses but which I presume is not a part of the courses offered through StraighterLine.) Teachers also add the creativity and uniqueness we bring to conveying our disciplines, and that is certainly lost in a service like StraighterLine, where all the teaching products are off-the-shelf textbook-made learning tools.

At the same time, some of these sorts of projects really have shown equal levels of student learning, and if our central goal is to teach students certain skills, then does it matter how we taught it to them? And, although I just insinuated that learning objects and materials made by textbook companies are not as good as what we as teachers produce, their development is often guided by much research on learning and cognition, and they are often very high-tech and engaging--surely better than some of the things individual teachers produce.

What do you think? And do you expect that we'll see more of these sorts of products in the future?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Incarcerated Students and Other People Who Need ELI

You all know that I'm a sociologist by training, and if you know many sociologists, you know that means I am very concerned with social justice issues. One of the biggest issues we face in the U.S. today is the problem of our skyrocketing prison populations and the many barriers ex-prisoners face when they return to society after serving their sentences. Education while in prison, especially higher education, drastically reduces recidivism rates.

Of course, access to higher education while in prison is limited. It seems to me that distance education--whether online or not--is an excellent solution to this problem. Getting ELI involved in purposefully, actively serving incarcerated people across Virginia seems to me an excellent way for us to serve our community.

I've had some great assistance recently in gathering information about what seems to be a very small number of colleges with programs for incarcerated students, and I will be working this summer on learning about these other programs and trying to figure out what we could do on this front at ELI.

What are your thoughts, questions, concerns, ideas on this? And what other underserved populations do you think ELI should be actively trying to reach?

Friday, June 13, 2008

They Stole Our Name!

Alas, we are not the only ELI in distance learning these days. EDUCAUSE has started something they call the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) to help spread knowledge about technology issues in education.

If we can forgive them for a moment for stealing our name, you might find some really useful information in their "7 Things You Should Know..." series at http://www.educause.edu/ELI7Things/7495. There are a whole bunch of quick two-page overviews of technology tools you may have heard of but not know much about (e.g., they have "7 Things" reports on Skype, on Flickr, on Second Life, on Twitter, on Facebook, ... you get the idea). These briefs would be a good way to get a sense of what each tool is all about, the pros and cons of using it in education, and whether you might want to learn more. If you do get interested in any of the tools you read about, contact ELIIDHelp@nvcc.edu (this semester, that means Fran and Maureen will be responding to your questions) and they would be happy to help you learn more and think about how you might use that tool in your teaching.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Online Teaching Blogs

Bob Loser passed along to me the link for Teach Online (http://teachonline2008.blogspot.com/), a blog by an online teacher. It is one of those blogs that mixes posts on the topic (e.g., a recent discussion of when to give Incompletes and when to give extra credit) with personal updates (dental work, family events, etc.). If you enjoy blogs or just don't mind skipping over the personal stuff, you might want to take a look.

On the blog roll (translation for folks who don't read blogs: a blog roll is a list of blogs you read or recommend, usually posted on the side of your blog near the archives and other blog menus) of Teach Online, I found a couple of others that looked promising:

Lisa's Online Teaching Blog (http://lisahistory.net/wordpress/) seems to be very focused on pedagogical issues (learning styles, students' technology knowledge, student evaluations, etc.).

Online Adjuncting (http://onlineadjuncting.blogspot.com/), as its name suggests, is particularly focused on the experiences you might have doing this work as an adjunct, although its pedagogical discussions would likely be of interest to anyone.

Just thought I'd share these in case anyone feels like getting hooked on blogs this summer! :)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Online Course Design Tutorial

A recent posting on the Tomorrow's Professor listserv alerted me to this resource you might be interested in:


It's an online tutorial to help you design "effective and innovative" courses. The tutorial designers teach geoscience courses, so it would probably be especially effective for science faculty (and in fact, there are a lot of links on specific science disciplines which provide materials you might find useful in your teaching, separate from whether you use the actual tutorial or not--see the link list on the left). The website claims, though, that the tutorial uses a variety of examples and is useful for any discipline.

As far as I can see, the tutorial is focused on f2f classes, but I'm sure that the basic course design/revision process it outlines would be equally useful for planning an online course--you'd just be using different types of assignments and activities.

I'd be interested to hear whether you think this is a useful tool, if you have a chance to look through it. (And instructional designers--what do you think?)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

ELI Professional Development Day, Fall 2008

I just sent you all an email announcing our ELI Professional Development Day, which will be held on September 12. Some of you know that I planned similar events for Loudoun campus adjunct faculty when I worked at Loudoun, and they were always a lot of fun and really useful to those who attended. I'm looking forward to trying this out at ELI! We don't get many opportunities to share with each other what we are doing in our classes, nor to sit back and reflect on what the research literature currently can tell us about teaching effectively online, and I hope this will be a chance to do both of these things. Bob Loser and I will be contacting some of you later this summer about presenting a session!

I welcome your thoughts, questions, and suggestions about what this day will be like and what you would like to see that day in terms of format, topics, or whatever you have ideas about!