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Category: LOC2 The Online Classroom

Scoring with online content

  October 20th, 2011

Right away I was skeptical about finding online content that is really relevant to my Environmental Law class. Of course, there are so many things about the environment out there, but it sounded like a bit of a long shot to find really targeted and effective content that speaks to the narrow topics in class, specifically about law or policy (not just cool science) that is at a level appropriate for undergrads. Or would take a long time to sift out, and heaven knows that I just don’t have the time.

I am familiar with TED content from personal use, so my first step was to browse the “Environment” tagged videos. Most were too science and application oriented for my Environmental Law class, but I came across a TED debate on nuclear energy right pretty quickly (http://www.ted.com/talks/debate_does_the_world_need_nuclear_energy.html).

Using outside content is helpful because (a) Some people (much smarter than me) have thought very hard about these issues and can say it faster and better than I can, and (b) I can’t provide a debate in my class when it’s just me! Giving them a different perspective of both content AND process is incredibly valuable. Especially when we are dealing with highly controversial issues, such as whether we should be encouraging expanded use of nuclear power.

The web is an amazing resource, but as I get older I notice that I am now teaching people who have only known on-demand media and I realize how much it has actually narrowed our world in some senses. We all have the ability to search out the material that confirms our own perspective, and we don’t have the patience to sit through the material that challenges our perspectives. I think that dynamic is reflected in our highly polarized society, and it is only going to get worse. With a resource like a 20-minute TED debate, we MUST listen to both sides, and if I can get my students to even look at the other side of a debate, I consider that a hit. If they took the steps to seek out more information about the other side, that is a home-run. So maybe I should do a little before and after essay with this—a paragraph about your opinion on the use of nuclear energy before watching the debate, then a paragraph arguing the other side after watching the debate!

One question that I am thinking about as I continue to seek out media: Is it credible to pull media primarily from 1 resource, like TED or another site? Or should I make a concerted effort to bring in resources from different places? And how much?

Christy Anderson Brekken

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Adventures in Zunal Land

  October 18th, 2011

Ok, I’ll admit up front that I did not devote what one could call ‘quality’ time to the webquest assignment involving zunal.com. That is, unless keeping one eye on the monitor and one eye on my son’s homework can be called ‘quality’. But hey, such is life. Something tells me many others out there deal with these same quality issues.

In a way, restricting the activity to simple searches on a handful of search engines was beneficial. It revealed how restrictive it is to use only general words or terms. In my case, I used the word wilderness, or term wilderness management. In future searches, I would be a bit more specific about the topic I’m seeking help with. Rather than simply using wilderness, I’ll try wilderness recreation, wilderness and fire management, or something similar.

I used four search engines: Ted.com, Merlot.org, YouTube Edu, and Science Daily. When entering the term wilderness management, only one of the four came up empty:

merlot.org result for ‘wilderness management’

Success with the other engines varied. The best result was with Science Daily:

sciencedaily.com result for 'wilderness management'

I was reminded of how liberally the word ‘wilderness’ is used in science and natural resource circles. It is seemingly used to refer to a variety of lands containing some type of wild character. Even in the Science Daily reference, I am not convinced that this technology would actually be used in wilderness areas. The Wilderness Act of 1964 mandates that no mechanized use be allowed in wilderness areas. There are caveats of course, but I don’t believe this is the case with the technology referenced by Science Daily.

Overall, though my search results this time around were less than stellar, I the exercise opened my eyes to some new sources of information. I imagine that I will use zunal.com again, or simply utilize one of the engines contained within. Of course, it pays to enter the activity with a specific, focused topic in mind. Otherwise, time slips away (and leaves you with nothing mister, but…)

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On the Advantages of Following the Links

  October 17th, 2011

In today’s technological societies the Internet prevails.  Almost every email, website, or file contains links to the world wide web that may supply some extra information, clarify an issue, suggest an interesting sidebar on a topic you’re studying… or contaminate your computer with a virus. So one has to follow the links carefully.

I have been greatly pleased with following the links of the webquest activity assigned for our online development class.  Having done my grading for today, I decided that I could have a little fun checking out the potential help for creating my class content.  I dismissed many of the videos from Ted as a bit too socially conventional for my courses, lost patience with sociology.org, but was pleased beyond belief with what following the links allowed me to discover.

One of the websites, Merlot (I feel compelled to explain that the acronym stands for Media Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching), sported clear discipline categories, so I clicked on Sociology and dug in.  I looked at the couple of quizzes, and then a tutorial called Science and Race: Concept and Category peaked my interest since I was looking for a good presentation on racism for my Social Problems class.  I clicked…

…I have to admit, I did not finish this activity in one sitting. As I went through the tutorial, I was clicking on the signs on the slides – letter I for information that appeared on a slide, a little globe for a link outside the tutorial – and I clicked – and made it to this activity.

If you are interested in what I have found, try it out for yourself, and prepare for a challenge – this is an activity that is impossible to get right! At least, I think so.  I bet it could be pretty fun for the students to start from trying to assign a face to a census category and end up finding out about the social construction of race and the realities of racism.  I could not believe I found an activity that is so perfectly aligned with the content of my course – I even have a reading on the history of the census that my students read already. With this activity, I am sure, I will get responses for the topic that are much more alive. I can’t wait.

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Blog Example

  October 10th, 2011

Hi, I thought this older blog I used to use would be helpful to those wondering what might be the differences or possibilities with using a blog. This was designed for one student in one of my first terms teaching the class, who told me at the end of the second week that she was “legally blind”. I was completely lost as to how to help her with a course that relied in visual information, but I quickly adjusted not only the material and the assignments, but also my idea of what “viewing art” can be. So, most of the material on here is me reading all the books and articles.

The mp3′s in the posts has since been disabled and I didn’t think it necessary to fix for the purposes of your viewing. It’s pretty much just adding it in like a picture. What I was excited to discover were the widgets “boxnet”, the videos, and the widget at the top which is already in Blogger’s editing to add if you want. The videos are there also through Blogger’s editing. Best way to see inside the editing process and the choices you’d have would be to set up an account.
Last I checked (a year ago when I set up this blog), WordPress didn’t have the videos or slideshow options, but I believe there’s enough online to find a free app that has an “embed” code like Boxnet has.

Anyway…sorry to give you more to read. Here ya go!
http://writingarthistory.blogspot.com/

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The sleeper in the back of the room

  October 9th, 2011

I’d love to say that I’m such an engaging lecturer that I’ve never had a sleeper in the back of my classroom but sadly that’s not true.  I have.  And I know I’ve had sleepers in my online classroom too but I don’t have to see them.  The benefit to my online classroom is that sleepers don’t really matter.  Students have to be self-motivated enough to learn the material, turn in assignments, and take exams without having a scheduled time to show up for class.  The student who might sleep through my lecture on models of nutrient uptake might find my online presentation really interesting and be actively engaged in our online discussion.  A student who is engaged in the classroom might find online courses difficult because they must find their own time to view material and they don’t have me standing in front of them 3x a week saying “Hey isn’t this cool!” to get them excited about a topic.

Basically I think online courses are great because they are available to a wider population than can come to campus and take classes.  I love the variety of people I’ve had in my classes.  Teaching Perennial Plants to someone in Qatar definitely expanded my list of plants to consider, although most of the plants she had growing around her wouldn’t grow in Corvallis.  The drawback I see and I don’t think you can avoid is that online you don’t have an instructor right there who you can stop and ask questions of.  There are ways to make that difference OK but I think for some students on campus will always work better.  It just depends on how they learn.  And the reality is that there will always be sleepers not matter how engaging we are on campus or online.

Some thoughts on how I’ve set up my online courses…

1 – keep the course design simple.  I use a Course Information section, a Course Documents section, an Assignments section, and an Exam section.  Course Information contains the syllabus and calendar.  Course Documents contains the topics we’re coving in class grouped in 3 week blocks.  Under each topic there is text, ppt, and links to further reading, usually only 2 or 3 things per folder.  In Assignments I have an explanation and a link for them to turn in their work.  Exams contains, well, exams.  I like this arrangement b/c students never open 1 section and feel overwhelmed by what they see.

I also prefer discussion boards to blogs b/c it keeps all the course interactions in 1 place. Students don’t have to leave the course Bb site and log onto another site to contribute to the  course.

3 – I use discussion boards and I use groups for the boards.  I arrange my discussion boards with individual threads for individual topics so that there is never an open ended “jump in” type expectation.  As discussions develop I encourage students to start threads for ideas that they think are interesting or important and I start new threads when a new idea pops up.  This helps avoid discussions that get so convoluted that you can’t remember where it started.  Using groups of 10 or so also keeps discussions more focused and seems to give students more of an opportunity to make new contributions rather than just agreeing with each other.

Of course I’m teaching a science course so they types of discussions and information I’m presenting may be very different from a writing course or an art or music course.

Sarah Finger McDonald

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Mind the learning gap

  October 9th, 2011

I have my teaching gig by way of my law degree. My career goal was always to pursue farm, food and environmental policy issues, so I feel right at home in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Policy choices and legal problems are inextricably intertwined, so I love thinking about the material. My ultimate goal is to teach my students the process of policy and legal analysis and problem solving.

The traditional law school teaching method is the “Socratic Method,” where professors question students on the cases that we read for homework, but rarely ever make a statement of fact or law in class. As law students, we were most frustrated with our Constitutional Law professor, who would only make non-committal whines and squeaks in response to student answers, so we couldn’t even tell if a fellow student was correctly answering the question!

But by the end of the class, I found that I learned a tremendous amount from that professor because I was challenged to evaluate the answers for myself and check it against my own understanding of the material. We students then wrestled with the “right” answers in our own small groups by articulating the material for ourselves.

Moving from that unique educational environment, I keep in mind that I am teaching an undergraduate course, not a law school course. There is a learning gap here, both in the material, the readiness of the students, and the course environment. I try to use a “modified” Socratic Method of my own invention in my class, and use the same approach on the Discussion Board. I ask students to explain a case and respond to each other. I jump in with clarification or congratulations on a job well done, but I try to let them sort out the issues. My goal is NOT to teach them how things ARE, or SHOULD be, but to give them tools to evaluate these problems and make the arguments themselves.

Ok, so my goal is partially to teach them how things are currently done, how things ARE. We review the current status of environmental law, what the courts have said about different statutes, what it means for polluters and for people affected by pollution. But the law is ever evolving, so it means (almost) nothing to know what the law says right now. Thinking about this helps me to break down my class objectives. We have to start with recollection and comprehension. That will take a more traditional content delivery. But then we need to quickly move to the process tools of analysis, problem solving, and synthesis. Maybe even on to creation of new ideas and tools to solve legal environmental problems. I am realizing that I have been using the “objectives” already without the labels attached. I hope I can do them in a more conscious and methodological way. Now, on to the tools! How to convey this information in the online environment is my challenge.

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Not a Sage on the Stage, Not a Guide on the Side: Who Am I?

  October 5th, 2011

A Guide on the Side, that’s one of the best things to be when you teach.

At least, that’s what I heard.  As a guide on the side, you never ignore the ways students learn from each other (and do not fall under a #5 pitfall of designing an online class!).  You center your perception around student learning rather than your own teaching.  I like this idea, but perhaps it’s the “on the side” part of the metaphor that throws me off; perhaps the “guide” part is more important.  I would like to guide students on their own path of learning toward the class learning outcomes. But what exactly does it mean to be “on the side”?

Sure, there was a Sage on the Stage, who, probably, was one of your favorite professors ever.

Wasn’t there? Well, mine was, because there were no other kinds. My schooling happened in traditional dimly lit classroom environments in Eastern Europe (former USSR) where classroom activities were not encouraged.  Even the chairs and desks wouldn’t move. However, the professors were passionate for teaching and learning, and they were inspired, inspiring, enthusiastic, and came across as a “students’ revered and primary access point to the desired knowledge”.  Many students held them as role models and wanted to become as bright and knowledgeable.

In graduate school I took classes from the US professors who came to teach to the former USSR countries. They were no less impressive in terms of how much they knew in their chosen discipline, yet a different breed altogether. They structured classes between lecture and discussion; they let students bring in what was important for them, but they always made sure that some topics got developed and some died out. Perhaps, the concept of a “content curator” describes this approach which shaped my learning in graduate school.

In the context where the word curator is used most often, that is, in museums, the curator is the one who has a lot of power and authority over visitors. The curator is the one who has the last word on what gets included in an exhibit and what gets taught in a program.

I have rejected being a sage on the stage, so I won’t want to fall for a curator.

I do like the way Elizabeth St. Germain continues talking about it, “the one who prunes and trains the branches that extend from your expertise out into the world”.  I like the idea of students growing the thoughts and ideas and me suggesting, “Feed this one with the works of C. Wright Mills, and it will flourish.”  “This idea needs some time in a dryer environment.”  “If you want to grow this, it might now grow here.”  Can I be a master gardener in an online classroom?

Being a master gardener in an online classroom means supporting the branches that lead us toward the learning outcomes. Perhaps, sometimes branches that lead away in a way that is putting the entire plant off balance can be snipped.  We all do it, and it seems to me that it is easier to do in the classroom face to face than online. What is said in the classroom disappears in the air if it is not supported by the instructor and the rest of the students. Online, it is written down on the discussion board.

How do you train and prune the branches on the discussion boards?

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Ecampus and Use of Blogs

  October 5th, 2011

Hey Everyone

I haven’t read anyone else’s blog posts yet, and hope there’s not much in the way of redundancy here.

While nothing beats face to face interaction with a student, I do enjoy teaching within the online environment. One of the reasons has to do with that lack of interaction. Specifically, how to overcome it. Students can hide quite easily, and I enjoy reaching out to them via general announcements and individual emails. I’ve called students as well, which on some occasions has shocked them. For the most part, they have enjoyed this effort to welcome them and encourage their involvement.  

Coming into this training, I’ve considered myself fairly competent with regard to Blackboard navigation and overall use. I’m immediately reminded that I’ve kept things fairly simple in the online courses taught so far, which has its benefits for the student user. They don’t need to work too hard when trying to find presentations, assignments, assigned readings, etc.

On the other hand, maintaining the status quo can make things a bit stagnant, and perhaps I need to challenge myself a bit more when designing courses. There are other tools I should start to use, including blogs and journals.

Regarding those blogs,  I’m still not quite sure what the difference is between a blog and a Discussion Board Forum. I’ve definitely gotten used to using the Discussion Board for student interaction, but have a slight hunch it’s perceived as archaic by some students. Kind of like insisting on using a VCR when everyone else has moved on to streaming video. Does anyone else have an opinion on Discussion Board vs. Blog?

I plan on using blogs in the future, but am not certain if I should use it as a replacement for the Discussion Board, as a supplement, or something completely different.  Thanks all.

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