Tidbits, Resources, and Discussion for ELI Faculty

Monday, November 24, 2008

Favorite Assignments

This week my students are doing my favorite assignment of the semester--the "Hot Topics" project. After we've spent much of the semester establishing a shared foundation of concepts, facts, and theories, I give them a list of controversial issues that the shared course material doesn't explore in depth (for my class, on race/ethnicity, this includes things like illegal immigration, using Native American names and images as sports team mascots, etc.). They do some (fairly informal) research and write a couple of pages on what they found, posting it to a discussion forum. Then the fun part starts, as students read the reports and post their comments, reactions, and questions. We get some interesting conversations going between people who researched different topics, and between people who researched the same topic but learned different things or drew different conclusions. It's a fun exchange and students seem to get a lot out of it. (Last semester, a student told me in a reflective paper that he did not find the discussion forums useful. On his final exam, he used information from the Hot Topics discussion extensively in one of the essays, and he wrote a little note at the end of the exam that said he wanted to take back his claim that he didn't learn from the discussion forums. That was a nice comment to receive!)

I'm getting started now on developing a new ELI course. Share with me--what's your favorite assignment from your ELI class(es)?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Best Features of the BB8 Grade Center

I just attended a training on the Blackboard 8 Grade Center. I know many of you will be attending the trainings offered tomorrow and Wednesday (and I think there are still some slots available--contact ELI ID Help if you want to check!). Please post in the comments here what you like best about the Grade Center--or things you don't like, if they've made a change for the worse! This'll help us all see more quickly how we can use the Grade Center to our advantage.

I'll start us off with two favorites of mine. One is the obvious one--being able to use freeze pane to keep student names (and other columns, if you want) showing on the left even as you scroll right to see all their grades. It was so difficult to use when scrolling right meant the names disappeared and you had to mouse over the grade to see whose grade it was. What a great improvement!

My other favorite is the option to easily hide a grade column from yourself. I plan to use this when everyone has finished a certain assignment. I can then hide the column and keep the gradebook simpler (as the semester progresses, there will be fewer and fewer columns to scroll through). The grades in the hidden column will still be included in the grade total, and will still appear as normal in "My Grades" for the student, and if I need to see those grades again myself, it's easy to make the column pop back into being visible.

What are your favorite features?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Distance Learning by Cell Phone and PDA

There's a blog post in the Chronicle this week about programs offering distance learning via cell phone. It's not entirely clear from the piece what exactly these programs or courses look like--clearly, students would not be completing most types of assignments on a cell phone, although there are certain types of assignments they probably could. I wonder how many students will actually use their cell phones to access the course materials (versus just using their desktop or laptop). I can also imagine students starting out eager to access these things via cell phone or PDA, but soon finding they'd rather just use a standard computer. (For one thing, although it's nice to be mobile when studying, there's also, at least for many students, a need for a quiet and comfortable study space in order to learn effectively.)

All that said, there are great ways to help students learn by making course materials available on cell phones and PDAs. The most obvious one (besides putting brief lectures into podcasts or vodcasts for downloading onto these devices) to me is to create, for terminology-intensive courses, electronic flashcards students can flip through to do some casual studying as they ride the Metro or wait for an appointment. What other ideas do you have for using these devices in your teaching? Now that Sue's here, we have the resources to start researching how to make your ideas for teaching via PDAs and phones work.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Connecting ELI Students

I've mentioned before that one of the things we're working on at ELI is developing various tools to help ELI students connect to each other, and to us, in ways that might help them become more likely to persist and succeed in their online courses. We know that students on campus do better when they feel connected to their institution, and this is usually accomplished by holding student activities (from clubs to free coffee and snacks during final exam week) that bring students together and show them that their college cares about them.

All this is harder to accomplish at a distance, but it's the wave of the future in supporting distance learning students nonetheless. I'll soon be sending our students a survey asking them for feedback on what kinds of additional support services they would most want (and use). As I've mentioned before, we're planning on starting a blog for students, at the outstanding suggestion of the ELI counselors, I'm going to let students name it. We'll ask for student input on what should be discussed in the blog, and we hope to have some students as guest bloggers in addition to inviting ELI staff and faculty to post.

But we also want to explore what other sorts of student activities and supports students might like. Some online programs provide an "online commons" or "virtual student union" where students can go (virtually), hang out, chat with staff or other students, etc. And there are many other possibilities as well, such as clubs for online students, which might meet only on BB or might mix in-person and virtual meetings. I'm looking forward to seeing what students have to say and to trying some of these things out. Stay tuned!

(And meanwhile, please take the new poll on the left.)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Free Teleseminar on Toxic Academic Environments

I've been enjoying the thoughtful comments folks have been posting in response to my question about an early alert program at ELI--please keep them coming!

Meanwhile, you might be interested in an upcoming free teleseminar I saw advertised on one of the academia newsletters I subscribe to. It's called "Antioxidants for Toxic Academic Work Environments" and it focuses on how to deal with a work environment where you must work with people who are overly critical, where misbehavior is tolerated by upper management, where colleagues do not respect each other, etc. Although I VERY much hope none of you are experiencing this kind of thing at NOVA, at an organization this size, I know that that can't be the case. If this describes your department, division, or whatever, you might want to tune in and get some tips.