Tidbits, Resources, and Discussion for ELI Faculty

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Early Alert/Academic Probation Program for ELI

I'm sure that many of you have encountered students who struggle in your courses right from the start. In some cases, they are new to distance learning, or to college, and they are having trouble getting on the right track. In other cases, they have taken course after course at ELI and gotten a D, F, or W in all of them. In both of these types of situations, the problems can be all kinds of different things--personal life issues, too heavy a school and/or work schedule, technology problems, procrastination or bad study skills, lack of academic preparation, etc.

One of my priorities, now that we have a third counselor on board to help manage the counselors' enormous workload, is to establish some ways of reaching these students to try to help them succeed. I know that everyone will agree it is a great idea to reach them--but the question is, how? Please help me start thinking about how such a program would work.
  • Faculty would need to let counselors know of students who are starting out poorly and might need interventions. Would you like to receive an email reminder at an appropriate time of semester and then send a reply email with info about your students who need assistance? Would you fill out a web form if we created one?
  • Based on your experience with struggling students, what kind of help do you think would be best? A personal call from a counselor or other staff member to try to identify problems and barriers, and point to solutions? Invitation (requirement?) to participate in a webinar or in-person group session on study skills, time management, etc., led by a counselor? Invitation (requirement?) to use Smarthinking services and/or in-person tutoring? Something else?
  • We likely cannot restrict student enrollment in future courses, especially in these tough financial times. How else could we get students to participate in whatever we set up?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Change Strategies to Get More Work Done

I often think about teaching online as similar to writing a dissertation. It's very different in that the dissertation is one big project, while online teaching is generally a lot of small but endless tasks (grading, responding to email, reading and responding to BB posts, more responding to email, etc.). But it's the same in that it can be isolating, and in that when we are working in isolation, it can be easy to get overwhelmed, to procrastinate, to develop a bad attitude, etc. I still subscribe to a newsletter I started getting when I was ABD (All-But-Dissertation), and it recently published a short piece on some changes you can make if you are feeling some of this isolation and its related problems (like using every excuse possible to put off your grading). Check it out here (note: not for those who don't like self-help-y reading). And if you are writing a dissertation yourself, I definitely recommend subscribing to the newsletter!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Questions about ELI

From time to time, it's good to take a step back and reexamine what we're doing. Help me out here: what are some things you just don't understand about ELI? These could be things where you need a re-explanation of a policy, procedure, who to contact about certain things, etc. Or, it could be something where you know how it works, but you don't understand WHY it works that way or you think it should change. This will be a fun set of comments for me to come back to after my vacation... :)

And don't forget about the ELI Faculty Lounge in Blackboard--there, you can set up your OWN topics to discuss, including sharing teaching ideas by discipline type (social sciences, hard sciences, etc.).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Blackboard/Open Source Partnership

I recently posted something about alternatives to Blackboard. Inside Higher Ed just had an interesting news item about a partnership Blackboard just announced with Sakai, one of the open source course management systems. Looks like a clever strategy to keep institutions whose faculty are starting to use open source systems still working with Blackboard.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Facebook and Social Networking

Shortly before I left for my vacation (which I am still enjoying as this message posts itself), I caught up with the rest of the people in my age group and finally joined Facebook. I've been having a great time finding old classmates and friends from other contexts and seeing what they're up to. It's also been interesting to see how different people use the site.

For those of you who haven't used Facebook, you create a simple profile (your picture, some stuff on your interests/hobbies/favorite movies/etc., and your work/educational background). You can provide as much or as little information in the profile as you choose. The real magic happens in the interaction--you link to other people you know, you post updates about what you are doing, and people comment publicly (on your "wall", or your profile page) or privately (by chat or in-Facebook email). Some people post several updates a day about what they are doing (kind of like using Twitter); at the other extreme, some people put a brief profile and may search for friends, but rarely or never actually post public updates about what they are doing. The people who are most engaged add all kinds of additional technology tools to their profiles so they can do things like send friends virtual flowers or gifts, or play virtual chess or Scrabble games with others in their network. Some people have virtual pets or gardens that they have to visit regularly and care for in their profiles. (Your friends can also help you by visiting your profile and helping tend your garden or pet when you are too busy or have forgotten.)

As you surely know, social networking sites of all kinds (Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, etc.) are a major way young people keep in touch with each other. They are used to checking these pages daily, if not throughout the day, to find out what's going on, communicate with friends, make plans, share interests, and the like. What could we do as online teachers to try to harness this type of engagement? Could we make our students in a particular course/section a vibrant community like those students engage in on social networking sites? Would we want to?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Automating Your Class Announcements

As you are reading this post, I am on leave (yay!). I wrote the post before I left and set it up to publish automatically at a particular date and time.

As I thought about doing this, I recalled a comment made in the chat during the faculty meeting a few weeks back. I don't have the chat on hand at the moment, so I can't remember who offered this suggestion, but someone suggested using a similar technique for announcements in Blackboard. If you use BB announcements to give your students weekly encouragement, reminders of deadlines, etc., you can save yourself some time by creating all the announcements at one time. Then, in the options for the announcement, just select the date you want it to be available, and it won't appear to students until that day. You can still always edit them later as needed, or add other announcements along the way, but preparing several key announcements at the beginning of the semester helps ensure that you get those announcements to students right when they need them, without having to remember to do it during the crush of the regular semester.

What other tips do you have about using announcements effectively--or about things you can prepare in advance to save time later?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Work/Life Balance and Online Teaching

Debbie Naquin passed along a blog post and short discussion from the Chronicle about teaching online and how to manage your time so that you are not working 24/7. What strategies do you use to stay responsive to your students while also keeping reasonable work hours to avoid burnout? Or, where have you made mistakes on this front, so others can avoid them?

One thing I do that helps a lot is sending my weekly message to the class. Sending one big set of announcements each week means fewer individual questions to answer as I go.

One thing I'm planing to start is keeping a file where I include text I've sent to students on common questions. (For example, every semester I have to explain the difference between income and wealth and why the racial wealth gap is increasing even while the income gap is down.) This way, I can not only reuse (or slightly edit, depending on the student's error) these answers during one semester, but also use them across semesters. I'm sure many of you are way ahead of me on that one...I just somehow never got around to starting the file until now.

Please share your tips and mistakes! I know we could all use some timesavers.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

New NOVA site for Blackboard help

TAC has just finished putting together a fabulous site about Blackboard. Be sure to click "For Students" and "For Faculty/Staff" on the right to see all the features, reference guides, etc. You'll find a lot of screen shots, which are really helpful as you try to follow the instructions yourself. Links to this site will be provided soon in your Blackboard sites (assuming that you use ELI's syllabus template, with the parts that we can automatically update). You might also want to point the site out to students yourself. Enjoy!