Tidbits, Resources, and Discussion for ELI Faculty

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

For-Profit Colleges and Career and Technical Credentials

There's an interesting blurb in a recent edition of the Chronicle indicating that there's been a shift toward more career and technical credentials being awarded by for-profit institutions rather than community colleges. (We still award most of these credentials, but the proportion has shifted--or, is shifting.)

I will ignore the various bizarre comments people posted in response to the blurb (though you might want to read them, for your entertainment and aggrivation)... my question to you is this: why do students choose for-profit institutions rather than community college, when we offer the same credentials at much lower cost? We need to serve this group of students better. How could we better let them know that we are here for them?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Alternatives to Blackboard?

There has been increasing talk in the instructional technology world about moving away from market giant Blackboard to alternative course management platforms. Here's a recent article from the Chronicle of Higher Education about the issue.

Do any of you have experience using alternatives like Moodle, Angel, or Desire2Learn? What do you think of them in comparison to Blackboard?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Copying Faculty on Emails to Students

During the first fall faculty meeting, some folks requested that faculty not be copied on the emails ELI sends to students. I know that you are all overwhelmed with email and it can be frustrating to be copied on something you don't find useful. Someone suggested in the chat during the meeting that emails sent to students could be posted somewhere so faculty who are interested in seeing them could read them, and those who are not would not be bothered with the messages.

I thought the best thing to do would be to see how the faculty feels overall. Although this of course did not get a response from everyone, I did poll you in two ways: I asked a yes/no question during the second faculty meeting, and about 3/4 of the faculty in the meeting said they like to be copied on these messages to students. I also put a poll here on the blog, and 71% of you responding to the poll said the same.

It seems to me that this is strong support for continuing the practice of copying you on what we send to students. I don't think that posting the emails somewhere for folks to look at is a good alternative, because that would not notify you when something had gone out, and unless you remembered to check regularly, you might not be aware of what's going out.

But, maybe I'm missing something. Do you have any suggestions on how we can meet everyone's needs in this regard?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Update from DDLC: Blackboard 8 and 9

As you know from some earlier posts, I went last week to the year's first meeting of the VCCS Distance and Distributed Learning Committee. I want to pass along a few tidbits about Blackboard:
  • We will be going to BB 8 in late December. Lucky for us, it will be a simpler switch than the move to BB7 was. BB7 required a migration, but BB8 is just a software update, and downtime will be one day or less. Also, while during the move to BB7, courses had to be physically transferred from one system to the other, none of that will have to take place this time. So, you can do any needed course copying, setup, etc. for your spring courses while BB7 is still in place--you don't have to wait until BB8 is online. Meanwhile, though, you should seek training in the BB8 Gradebook so you are ready to use it when spring hits. Note that Shaoyu and Rong are holding training sessions on Nov. 18 and 19--see this semester's ELI calendar for specific times and how to sign up. There may also be trainings taking place on the campuses.
  • BB9 (also called BB NG, for "next generation") will be released next year, probably before the BB user conference in the summer. The VCCS might go to it as early as Fall 2009, but we really don't know as of yet. This BB will apparently be a major revision, including a totally new user-friendly interface (e.g., the ability to drag and drop, which will be great!) and more web 2.0 functionality. Some of you went to a session at New Horizons about BB 9--can you share what you learned? How did it look?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Update on SIS/Blackboard Integration

Yesterday, I went to Charlottesville to attend this year's first meeting of the DDLC (the VCCS's Distance and Distributed Learning Committee). This committee plays an advisory role to ASAC (the VCCS committee made up of vice presidents and provosts) on distance learning and related issues. I have a few interesting tidbits to share with you from that meeting.

First, several of you have asked me since I've come on board at ELI about when we will have fuller integration between Blackboard and SIS. The key goal here is that students who dropped in PeopleSoft would be dropped from your Blackboard site. This makes your site management easier and avoids you having to make students who have been dropped inactive. It would mean that without any extra work from you, students (at least in courses that use Blackboard for their work) would know right away that they are no longer enrolled.

I asked about this at the DDLC meeting. There were many nods around the table--those of you asking for this at NOVA are not alone! The VCCS's head of all things Blackboard explained to me that they have been working on this at various times since we went to Blackboard 5. Apparently, each time there have been various exceptions that have caused enough problems to stop the process. (For example, at some colleges, some faculty combine multiple classes into one Blackboard site that cannot be combined in PeopleSoft because of workload implications.) He rightly noted that this is the kind of thing that can easily get pushed aside when a barrier comes up.

However, the group felt that now is a good time to revisit this issue and figure out how we can move past these problems so that most Blackboard users, who do want this function, can finally have it. The DDLC chair will convene a sub-committee to move us forward on this integration this year (exploring what the problems/issues are and identifying solutions). Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Adjunct Academy at UVa

Did you know that UVa's School of Continuing and Professional Studies, Northern Virginia Center, offers a series of one-week, non-credit courses on teaching and learning specifically for adjunct faculty? There are eight courses offered, and if you complete 7 of 8, you earn a certificate of completion from UVa. The courses are on interesting and useful topics like how to teach adult learners, how to teach dynamic online classes, how to design effective syllabi, and how to manage classroom dynamics. The courses are inexpensive ($149 per course) and you take them online via Blackboard (so they are also a chance to experience distance learning from a student's perspective, which is always eye-opening). You can find more information here.

If anyone has already taken any of these courses, please comment--how did you like them?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Feedback on the Professional Development Day

Thanks to all of you who came to our first annual ELI Faculty Professional Development Day today. Now that you've experienced it, I'd love for you to share with us your thoughts, suggestions, etc. for the future. What worked well? What would you like to see added or improved? What did you learn that was really useful and that you want to share with those who weren't there?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Opportunity to learn about MERLOT

Laura Franklin, who many of you know teaches for ELI and is highly involved (at a national and international level) with MERLOT, asked me to pass long this great, free professional development opportunity.

There is a three-week online seminar, MERLOT 101, starting on Sept. 17. It is free to participate in if you are a member of MERLOT (which is free to join). You can find more information on the seminar here. (You'll need to scroll down a bit in the calendar to find it. Be sure to click on "More information" in the box listing the title of the seminar to get a full description of the training.) Note that each week's session will be offered at three different times each day to help ensure it fits into everyone's schedule. You may even have colleagues participating from around the world!

I took a slightly different version of this course, offered by Laura through TAC, a few years ago, and I learned a lot about MERLOT as well as finding some great resources for my classes. It looks like the opportunity has only become better developed, and I'm sure even more useful, since then. I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Faculty Meeting Follow-Up: Question about Emailing through SIS

In one of the facutly meetings last week, one of you asked about the function in PeopleSoft where you can email (really, send an email notification to) your class. The question was whether this tool works or not. I've checked in with our PeopleSoft gurus to find out some information for you.

Although this function did not work when we first went to PeopleSoft, it does work now. You can select who you want to email, or can send your message to the whole class. As you consider using it, here are some things to be aware of and consider:
  • Although a student's VCCS email is supposed to be the default email address, we have found some cases where it is not. So, you may be sending your message to a non-VCCS email for some students using this function.
  • If a student has never logged into her VCCS email account, her email address may not show up at all in your roster. However, you could add her address manually before sending out your message.
  • When you use this feature, your own email address goes into the "To" line, and all the students' email addresses go into "Bcc." This means students can only reply to you, not reply to all other students.

Of course, you can also email all your students using the Blackboard email function.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Fall Faculty Meeting Follow-Up

Thanks to everyone who joined me for the faculty meeting last night. I am looking forward to today's session and the chance to update more of you on what's going on this semester at ELI.

As promised in the meeting, I'm posting here a place where you can give me and your colleagues any additional comments and/or questions about the faculty meeting. I would welcome your thoughts on the meeting format as well as on the specific topics we discussed. You can post comments with your name, or anonymously, as you prefer.

Please also note the new poll on the left. (Please only vote in this poll if you teach for ELI, as it does not apply to anyone else!) This issue came up in the text chat during the first faculty meeting. Some faculty want to be blind-copied on the emails we send to students, and others don't. I thought I'd take a poll here as one way to get a better sense of where the majority of you lie on this issue.

Comment away!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Current Events and the Online Course

Sorry to have been missing for a while; I took an extra-long weekend over Labor Day and just got back to work yesterday.

As I was staying up too late last night watching Palin's speech, I was thinking about how I would have talked about it, and all the many things that have come up in the campaign so far, in my face-to-face classes. In those classes, it is easy to have a discussion about whatever relevant topic might be happening at the time, and to adjust other material as needed to accommodate those on-the-fly content decisions. In an online class, it's not as easy, and my impression from talking to many of you is that you see your courses as static. That is, because you have had to design it in advance, you feel that all the content is fixed (until the next revision) and you can't engage students on current topics the way you could in the classroom.

I don't think, though, that this has to be the case--and I hope that you will all find ways (for your students' sake and your own!) to keep your courses fresh, separate from the sorts of changes that require revisions. Here are some ways I have thought of that you could do this:
  • I always recommend that faculty send a weekly email to students (or post a weekly Blackboard announcement) with reminders about assignments, course policies, etc. Why not also use this as a place to mention current events/issues related to your course material? (Or even more broadly, just to contribute to your students' general literacy, you could also mention other things, like books you've read lately and what you thought of them. This has the added benefit of helping create your social presence in the course, so students know they are interacting with a person and not just a computer.)
  • Keep an "Open Forum" in your discussion board in Blackboard and post interesting news items or current topics related to your course material. If students don't take the bait, you could even offer extra credit for their contributions to this forum (discussing what others have posted, and/or posting their own finds). For example, my ELI course is on race and ethnicity, and a few semesters ago, when the reality show Survivor divided the contestants into teams by race, I posted something about it in the Open Forum, and we got some interesting discussion going outside the regular course assignments.
  • If you keep a class blog, or a discipline blog for all your classes to read, that's an obvious place to post current events-type items.

What other ways have you come up with to inject current events into your online courses?