Tidbits, Resources, and Discussion for ELI Faculty

Thursday, July 31, 2008


A faculty member just emailed me to let me know about RateMyProfessor (http://ratemyprofessors.com), a site where students can post ratings and comments about their professors to help other students decide which courses/faculty to take. (The most notorious aspect of this site is that students can also assign faculty "chili peppers," which means they are hot--although I have spoken to some students who interpret that as more like cool/hip rather than physically attractive.)

I personally always checked my ratings when I was teaching at Loudoun (my favorite comment was the student who complained that I was not aware that my class was an ELECTIVE, "not BIO or something!"). I also know deans and provosts who use the site to check up on their faculty. Although many of us are a bit leery of student comments, especially on a site like this, I find that the general trend of the comments is usually pretty accurate, both about one's strengths and one's weaknesses.

At any rate, I'm passing it along, since if one person wasn't aware of the site, she was probably not the only one! You might enjoy checking out your comments (and if you want to be devilish, those of your colleagues...).


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

RSS Feeds & Social Bookmarking

I posted a note a while back about what an RSS feed is, for those of you not very familiar with blogs. Exploring MERLOT yesterday (you all know about MERLOT, right?), I found a great, short (under 4 minutes) video that explains perfectly, and clearly enough for anyone to understand, what an RSS feed is, why you would want to use one, and how to do it. The more blogs, online news sites, etc. you read, the more you will want to use RSS feeds. Check out the video at http://blip.tv/file/205570.

I also found another short video (also under 4 minutes--you really do have time!) by the same author about social bookmarking. If you're not familiar with social bookmarking or are not sure how it works, you might want to check this out (http://blip.tv/file/331587). Social bookmarking is increasingly a part of the way our students manage information, and we'd do well to learn it, too!

The video discusses how teachers can use social bookmarking to easily share useful teaching resources we find online. There are also ways you could use these tools in your courses. For example, you could ask students to create a list of websites they have found relevant to your course topic, and require them to add notes about each one, essentially creating an annotated bibliography of websites. Then have classmates review each others' lists, and perhaps draw conclusions about the accuracy of information about your field on the web, or whatever you want them to analyze about what the whole class together has found. As an added benefit, you're making sure they all have an important emerging technical skill, and you will likely learn about a bunch of sites you didn't know about before!

What other ideas do you have for using RSS feeds, or social bookmarking, in teaching or in our work with our colleagues?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Virtual High Schools

Laura Shulman pointed me to a recent Washington Post article on e-teachers (which is kind of an icky term, I think) in local high schools and their experiences teaching online. It was on page A1 of Friday's edition, if you still have the paper, or if you have a (free) washingtonpost.com login, you can read it online at:


Do you identify with their experiences? How would teaching high school online be different from teaching college online? I can think of ways it would be much harder, but also ways it would be much easier (for example, students NEED to graduate high school, so I don't think you'd have the non-starter and serious procrastination problems that can consume so much of our time and energies--although part of the article seems to suggest that at least some of that problem remains).

And can I just note one part: "In Fairfax, where online teachers earn $9,000 a course"--wow! (Of course, the course is likely a nine-month course, not four-month like our courses, but boy are they still beating us there...) Later in the piece, it reports on a Prince William teacher who receives $300 per student. That said, other colleges where faculty can get online teaching gigs pay similarly to what NOVA pays (although the proprietary schools, of course, pay a bit more). It is intriguing to see such a K-12 vs. higher ed disparity. I wonder what the pay looks like for online high school teaching in regions not as wealthy as ours.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Random Bullets Thursday

It has been a crazy week, so just some random bullets today:
  • Today was the ELI Beach Party--and it was great that we had some faculty attend as well as ELI staff. I hope to see more of you at the next event! We always have a good time. We even had sand (albeit contained in a plastic shell).
  • How did it get to be only one month left until fall classes start?!
  • Please vote in the poll on the left, if you haven't already.
  • The new trend for ensuring that students are taking their own exams is using things like webcams that scan the environment for 360 degrees around the student (to ensure no one else is in the room feeding answers), palm or other scans to verify a student's identity, and even typing pattern recognition software (you capture a student's pattern early in the course and then make sure the same pattern appears when the student takes the exam). What do you think? Useful, or creepy? How do you imagine ELI students dealing with such measures (which might allow them to take their exams at home and not have to arrange a proctor or go to a testing center)?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Deadlines & Pacing in ELI Courses, Continued

In some of my early blog posts, I let you all know that I was revising my ELI course for summer to use regular deadlines, and asked for your feedback on your experiences with using such deadlines. I thought I'd update you on how it's been going.

I ended up structuring the course quite rigidly--I have one or two deadlines each week. (When they are doing a project or paper, it's usually just one deadline, turning the paper in at the end of the week. When they are doing a discussion, there are usually two deadlines, one mid-week by which they have to have posted their main response to the prompt, and then one at the end of the week by which they must be done with their interaction with their classmates.) I gave them three "freebie" late assignments, and after that am taking a 10-point grade penalty for each late assignment (in a 1000-point total course).

I have been extremely pleased with the results so far (although we're only halfway through the semester, so the full verdict is not in). There were several students who dropped right away after my welcome message (which clearly explained that the course was not self-paced), but that is okay with me--not everyone is going to be able to follow a schedule that moves the whole class through the course at once. But for the remaining students, nearly every one is thriving. Work is high quality, and they are meeting the deadlines. And as a very wonderful side benefit, I do not have to spend so much time cajoling, and worrying about, students who are not making progress. I have put the deadlines in front of them, and by golly, they are doing what has been asked of them. Is this a case of high expectations producing better outcomes? Are we asking too little of our students when we allow so much leeway in deadlines and course progress? How can we structure our courses in a way that pushes those students who will thrive on structure while also creating enough flexibility for those students with legitimate needs for it (and who are actually able to complete courses without rigid structures)?

The real test will come with my fall group, since summer tends to bring more transient students who may have more college experience and therefore are better able to meet these expectations while producing quality work.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Test Accounts for Google Apps

I'm not sure how many of you are aware of this at this point, but soon--possibly as soon as later this month, but it's looking like September instead--the VCCS will be transitioning from our current student email provider to Google Apps for Education. This will be an email change, but more importantly, it will give students (and faculty!) access to a range of collaborative tools we can use in teaching or other aspects of our work.

Faculty and staff all have test accounts so you can check it out now if you'd like to start exploring and thinking about what you might want to use for yourself, for student group work, or whatever. Visit http://mail.gtest.vccs.edu/ and use your normal My VCCS username and password to log in (that's the same one you use to log into PeopleSoft or BB).

The basic email account will look like a gmail account, so if you are familiar with that, you will be familiar already with the overall environment. But you'll also see chat on the left (like in a regular gmail account, as well), and the major new features linked on the very top left (a calendar feature; document working/collaborating tools including word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation tools; and a tool for creating individual or shared websites).

Check it out and let me know what you think!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

1000 Visits

The Director's Cut has now received over 1000 visits. Thanks for reading! Please take a moment to take the poll on the left so I can learn a bit more about who's reading, and feel free to leave any comments you might have about the blog--new topic suggestions, questions, complaints, etc.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Here Comes the Competition...

An editorial in Sunday's Washington Post reports that there is increasing pressure to create a community college in D.C. Apparently, UDC currently offers some two-year degrees, so one option would be to expand its mission more fully in this direction by having it create a sort of community college "branch." Other proposed options (for some reason, the city felt it needed to get the Brookings Institution to give it advice on this matter) included just creating an independent community college and creating some sort of joint venture where multiple institutions would offer courses toward two-year degrees. You can read the whole article here:


Of course, I'm sure that whatever road the city takes, it will be a long time coming, so nothing much will change in the short run. And having access to a community college will be wonderful for DC residents, who for whatever reasons (probably significantly because we have not been very metro accessible, but I doubt that's the only reason) have not chosen to come to take classes at NOVA in large numbers. But it seems to me it will also really change the landscape we are working with. Will this push NOVA to focus more and more on its western locations? Might students in Alexandria, Arlington, etc. who work (or like to hang out) downtown choose to attend classes at DC's community college rather that at NOVA (assuming they could get favorable tuition rates, which might well be in the city's interest to offer)?

How do you think a DC community college would affect NOVA?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Gotta Love the Internet

Some of you who are more "hip with the kids" may have already seen this (a couple of years ago, actually). It just makes me laugh every time I see it (yes, I am a bit easily amused), in part because it is the perfect example of the bizarreness, and wonderful-ness, of the internet. Why in the world would such a thing exist? Who would spend that much time making such a thing? (And yet, I'm glad they did...)


(Warning: this may stay in your head for weeks...)

What's your favorite example of an internet item (a flash video, a mashup, or whatever) that is wonderful for its mere existence?