Common Pitfalls of Online Course Design #1: Upload your course materials, then call it a day

Wouldn’t that be great? Upload your materials, and simply let a Blackboard/Canvas robot monitor discussion, grade activities and assessments, and provide useful comments, and maybe even encouragement.  Is that where we’re headed?

Maybe so if we follow the trend of neo-reformers like Sugata Mitra, who suggests that teachers may not be necessary:

Build a School in the Cloud?

I’ve been somewhat skeptical of the ability of online courses to deliver the experience gained from traditional face-to-face courses, mostly because I really enjoy the dynamics of the classroom.  And although I generally agree with Mitra’s position, I think students need more than a “gran.”  In my limited experience, they need to be helped, guided, challenged, supported, encouraged and evaluated, among other things, which is much more than posting information and hoping that they learn it.  Sure, we have access to a staggering amount of information through the web, but as Mitra says, it’s essential that we be discerning about this information.  How do we make decisions about what’s important, then? How do students know what to search for, and how to use what they find?

In my classes, I try to give students an example of what a (somewhat) educated mind thinks about things–a lesson I saw repeatedly in graduate school,  reinforced in a Chronicle of Higher Ed. article called “In Praise of Passionate, Opinionated Teaching” (

In the last few years, I’ve come around to recognizing the ability to do this in an online or blended format.  It’s not enough, I believe, to use your skills/training/perspective to build innovative experiences, as the “Five Common Pitfalls” article suggests.  Instead, I think it’s important, necessary even, to be engaged with student learning in all aspects of the course: the challenges, frustrations, insights, a-ha moments, and so on.  Put differently, it’s not enough to “re-author” materials to so they leverage Web resources, etc.  That just adds the newest technological bells + whistles to what may be an otherwise stale approach to teaching/learning.  Instead, I feel we need to make the most of this dynamic technology to continue to challenge preconceptions and outdated mental models of reality.

So, yes, it’s a pitfall to believe one can upload outdated materials to a new format and “call it good.” But thinking that adding an video of what was once a lecture is potentially running into another pitfall: that technology alone makes learning happen.



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Going beyond the LMS

Pitfall 2 – going beyond the standard LMS. I like the LMS format. I find that it attends to my sense of organization and I find it exciting to make the folders connected and organized. OK – so I don’t have a lot to do on the weekends!

But the system is designed to be linear and that linearity is satisfying. To a point. There is nothing linear about my thinking and learning (and teaching?!), so I suspect the same may be true for many learners and teachers. But should this tendency to the chaotic and complex be part of decision or is the straight path the best for online/hybrid learning? What does it look like to develop something that may bring learners to a different place then they anticipated? Would this foster exploration or confusion? Or is exploration confusion?

OK – I am being a bit obtuse here and perhaps impractical. Can I be more concrete? So the idea is to go beyond the standard LMS and I am advocating for the potential of a non-linear path. But what does this look like? Well, in F2F learning there is the potential for emergence and digression that can be very valuable to the learning experience. Stories appear, new connections are made, conversations ramp up, significant learning may appear. But can this happen in an online setting? Can the LMS be an avenue for exploration rather than presentation? And how do you design this?

OK – so there are discussion groups, blogs, shared assignments. But can we think outside this framework; find a technology and process that fosters the emergence that can be so wonderful in learning and teaching?

OK – does any of this make sense? How do we use the efficiency of linearity in an LMS to foster the complexity of teaching and learning?

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Students learn from each other

In Elizabeth St. Germain’s article “Five Common Pitfalls of Online Course Design,” design pitfall #5 stood out to me for my ALS 161 Listening/Speaking class: Don’t ignore the ways students learn from each other. A vital part of learning a second language comes from using that language and making mistakes in that language. If students are always looking to the teacher to guide them in “perfect English” (which doesn’t exist, by the way), they will dramatically decrease their chances for authentic communication. After all, most speakers of English aren’t native anyways.

Additionally, English teachers talk a lot about the potential benefits and drawbacks of peer editing. ESL students hate it because they feel unequipped to correct other students’ English. So I’m always trying to boost students’ confidence in their own abilities, so they have more self-assuredness to critique their classmates’ work.

In the hybrid course, because there will be less face time with the teacher, building trust among students to learn from each other will be crucial. One way I plan to address this is by modeling regular, positive feedback online and in person and including activities that establish personal commonalities between students. Another way I plan to encourage group feedback and collaboration is by providing students multiple methods for interaction, including formal and informal ones. For instance, my students will sometimes need the scaffolding of a formal critique checklist of what to look for and comment on when it comes to assessing one another. They need basic examples of what to say and encouragement to do so.

For many reasons, I’m looking forward to a hybrid classroom because of its potential to allow students the time and space to contemplate their responses instead of always being asked for their ideas on the spot. And by setting the expectation early that students should provide feedback and comments on each other’s work – whether it’s a video, audio, blog, discussion board, wiki, etc. – will increase their own self-reliance and collaboration.

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Addressing Pitfall #4

In the article by Elizabeth St. Germain, Five Common Pitfalls of Online Course Design, all of the pitfalls really resonated with me and especially Pitfall #4, that I am going to really focus on avoiding in my redesign of my course as a hybrid.  Pitfall #4: “Expect your students to consume knowledge rather than create it” seems like a very easy pitfall to unknowingly adopt, with both online and hybrid designs, because of traditional learning.  It really struck me, because as I was thinking about components to develop in my Canvas classroom, I am really focusing on what students can do to create an understanding of the material, so they are not passive participants.

My course that I am redesigning, Pre-Internship Seminar for Public Health Students, is currently an on campus course that meets two days a week, and covers material to prepare students for their internship.  The course has become fairly large with anywhere from 50-80 students, and their option or course emphasis varies from environmental health and safety to health management and policy to health promotion and health behavior.  I initially wanted to convert the course into a hybrid design to tailor the information for each particular option, but as I was thinking about this pitfall, I am consciously working on assignments that allow the students to be actively involved.

As technology becomes more integrated into learning and education, I am reminding myself that it can become more  personal by really allowing the student to be accountable for their learning and include interactive engagement.  One assignment that I have tried out on Blackboard already with my on campus course has consisted of students creating their own professional letter to a prospective internship site.  I was elated with the quality of the letters and the positive feedback from students.  They stated how beneficial it was for them, and they were going to save the letter for not only future internship inquiries but for jobs as well.

The success of this particular assignment has me very motivated to avoid this pitfall by developing additional assignments, where the students are at the forefront of creating the outcome and not simply reading, responding or answering structured questions.

Additional assignments I am focusing on implementing include a mock interview video that students create and post, to practice interviewing skills, and a professional toolkit of resources that students develop to help prepare them to be successful for the transition into the working world.  Collectively, these assignments will engage the student and avoid this pitfall.

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Response to: Online Course Design Pitfall #3: Insist on being the “sage on the stage.”

I am responding to pitfall #3 – which asks that we move away from the model of being a ‘sage on the stage’. I teach photography and new media communications.

Before I read Elizabeth St. Germain’s column, I had already started to see myself as a curator of information with respect to organising and presenting the course material. The term ‘curator’ has already been co-opted by a number of fields from the art-context as a word to describe someone who assembles and presents already existing materials.

There are several techniques I already implement to involve students in active learning and to diminish my role as ‘Sage’

Google Image Search for Sage

Google Image Search for Sage

(Sage seems such a masculine trait – correct me if I am wrong).

First, I use discussion boards to ask students to respond to readings – using open-ended questions. I try and phrase my discussion board questions in such a way to elicit the type of response I would like. For example, in formulating the question I may cite part of the text, to demonstrate how text can be cited – thus encouraging more thoughtful responses that respond specifically to the text.

Second, every third reading or so, I ask the students to research one of the artists/photographers covered in the text in greater depth and share their findings with the class. In this way, the students have more control over their research, they can share information about an artist/photographer that they find inspiring and they can add to the rather limited information contained in the text. Typically, a chapter in a text will introduce ca. 20 artists/photographers but not in great depth – merely asking students to share information about a favourite photographer can lead to some rather dire examples so I prefer to use limited parameters as outlined above.

Third, in the classroom situation, I ask students to present information on a narrow topic to the class – using examples that they have found to illustrate the theme. In this way, I can ensure that the examples presented to class are always up-to-date and are relevant to the students’ interest. For example, I can teach about the use of color in film, TV, and photography but I have limited experience within video games. In this way, my bank of examples, has been kept up-to-date. I have yet to figure out how this ‘in-class presentation’ by students can be translated to the online world. So, finding a way for students to creatively present and share their own self-created information to the class online would be useful. This technique, however, can still be used in the hybrid system.

CONCERNS: Much of the curated information I use has excellent production values. I can tap into materials prepared by museums and galleries worldwide. However, when I ‘curate’ technical information the best web-videos are created by companies such as Adorama or Adobe – clearly these videos are designed to drive people to purchase items from that company. I do feel uncomfortable about promoting a vendor in this way (although we use Adobe software all the time – as an industry standard).

Like many, I am requiring responses to existing posts on discussion boards as part of the grade – however, I rarely see anything that meaningful in these responses at present – despite having a rubric statement that asks for responses that elicit additional discussion. Help on this matter would be appreciated.

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IEPA 050 Hybrid Course in a Nutshell

IEPA 050 Reading and Writing is a high-intermediate and low-advanced course for non-native English speakers – international students heading for the U.S. colleges and universities.   Typically, I have from 16 to 20 students and we meet three times per week for two hours each class.  The students have some basic knowledge about how to write an essay but also need to expand their vocabulary and improve grammar in writing (parts of speech, subject-verb agreement, connecting clauses in expanded sentences, etc.).

Unlike other lower-level courses, this course uses authentic reading texts for conducting scholarly research and writing an argumentative essay and summary-responses.  These two major types of assignments require a mastery of a host of skills and subskills such as summarizing and paraphrasing, active reading and annotation, identifying and critiquing opposing viewpoints, evaluating and using appropriate evidence, using and formatting outside sources in APA style, just to name a few among other necessary skills.

Because it is an intensive and high-paced course, my students should learn a lot of  material within a relatively short period of time.  Therefore, adding an online component should expand and augment student learning and yield better academic results.  Most of the instruction will be given online through video lessons.  I plan to make the recordings as interactive as possible.  For example, students will be asked to pause, then answer some questions or do a quick task before they can continue with the lesson and immediate feedback.  Each video lesson is going to be within 5-12 minutes long, followed by a Q&A session on Discussion Forum.  Some of the video instructions will be completed with an online quiz to monitor progress and to ensure student accountability.  It will be essential for the students to go through online instruction and evaluation (quizzes) to learn some skills and expand knowledge necessary to do the follow-up activities in the classroom.  The emphasis in class is for the students to be able to apply their internalized material to new contexts, to be able to do what I plan for them to do in this course.

However, it is just as important to be flexible.  As Karen Teeley stated, as a teacher, I should be able to adjust my course layout to meet student needs.  For instance, if content is too complex, I should be prepared to teach it additionally in class, repeat and modify my explanations and get immediate feedback from students to monitor their comprehension.

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My Hybrid Course: Geography of Asia

The course I will be delivering in a hybrid format is Geography of Asia: Geo 327. The course is offered approximately twice a year. Enrollment is typically between 60-75 students and usually attracts sophomores, juniors, and seniors. I currently teach both offerings of the course which are delivered in F2F and Online formats. I am certain that being a regular user of Blackboard and online teaching, is certainly an advantage when designing a hybrid course. However, my challenge lies in that I am concurrently re-envisioning the course content as I develop the hybrid format. My course is scheduled to meet for an hour and twenty minutes on Thursday morning.

Online Components

  • I am designing assignments that encourage the students to think spatially using web mapping tools available via ArcGIS. I intend to have the students work on these assignments in teams using Discussion Boards and Wikis to discuss and collaborate with one another.
  • Students will work in teams to do the assigned readings, collaborate via Wikis and prepare a 20 minute presentation which they will lead in class the following week. Every team will get an opportunity to present a topic of their choice related to the region of Asia that is being covered in readings and in lecture.

F2F Components

  • I will present a short 20-30 minute lecture on the assigned chapter readings
  • Students will then present their Wiki collaborations and 20 minute presentation
  • Discussion time will be reserved for the lecture material and student presentations

This is a very rough idea/outline of what I intend to do with the hybrid delivery, but I will get there, it might take a summer, but I will make it happen

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Foundations of ESOL/Bilingual Education

TCE 573 syll pic

Update:  In the last 24 hours since writing what follows, I had a idea emerge that has been a long time in the making.  It has to do with “gamifying” the course or at least sections of it.  I’m thinking of using The Amazing Race as a framework.  (I actually got this idea from one of my students in my online course this term who does this in her K-12 class.)  I also watched The Museum of Four in the Morning and am inspired to integrate this into the Course Outcomes assignment.  Their digital portfolio will be a Museum of their Four in the Morning ahah moments that relate to course outcomes.  I’m thankful for this time to revise and be creative.  It’s what I hope to allow students to do within the course as well.

This is the first course in our program. Most of the enrolled learners are pre-service undergraduate teachers.  The course provides them with insights that will help them understand and work with English language learners (ELLs). Course concepts, such as characteristics of ELLs, articulating a critical social justice framework related to the role of culture in language development, and implications for classroom instruction are important for all educators.  The content of the course is interesting and relevant!

With that statement of enthusiasm, I don’t wish to be the only being in the class who finds the content intriguing, particularly the stimulating language acquisition theories. A goal of mine is to allow opportunities for my learners to make connections between the content, their experiences, and their future.  As they make connections, I want to encourage a metacognitive awareness of their learning experience and for them to be able revise their beliefs as they interact, reflect and learn.  With that in mind, here’s what’s keeping me busy this week.

There will be a course outcomes assignment.  We will turn the course outcomes into questions that learners can choose through multiple ways (negotiating as we go) to answer throughout the term.  The use of digital portfolios seems a natural fit.  There they can explore, add evidence, resources, reflections, etc. that answer the “course outcome questions.” They can then add to this digital portfolio in upcoming classes in our program. I want this to be a process, not a one-time 3-4 page paper/product for learners.  I will give some support in class and optional drop in office hours; most of this will be done online.

Community Cultural Interactions and Observations: These will be done both in f2f class and on their own time outside of class. Learners will have opportunities to interact with ELLs in the community, to interview K-12 teachers, OSU students/instructors, and expert guest speakers.  Their journal reflections will be posted online to the LMS.

Language and Culture Autobiography.  In the past, there were one-time paper assignments, such as this. A change as a result of this hybrid initiative is to move at least parts of it to the digital portfolio and allow students to add and revise as they learn.  There will be a multimedia component to it.  Brainstorming, peer reviewing, Q & A time will be done in class.  It will be posted privately on the LMS with a short multimedia section on the digital portfolio.

Tech Springboards:  These are short 1 hour assignments and a part of the digital portfolio.  It is a fun ways for students to process the more challenging concepts in the course. i.e. A. Take a theory and create a fakebook, pretending you are one of the theorists, or make an online animation or comic strip that depicts a theory.  B. Use TED Ed, Jeopardy Labs or Arcade games and create a review for your classmates.

Now that the assignments have been more or less decided, the fun part comes! The joy one experiences in creating clear directions, etc is immeasurable.

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Re-engineering engineering communication

The new hybrid course for WR 327e (Technical Writing for Engineering Students) will be an adaptation my current f2f sections. The existing curriculum is already kind of cool: Students work individually and collaboratively as “Engineering consultants” for 9 weeks, designing OMSI-style interactive exhibits in response to a (fictional) RFP from the OSU College of Engineering (CoE).

The Scenario
In this “real-world” scenario, the CoE has requested proposals for permanent exhibits designed to answer the question “What Do Engineers Do?” for visitors to new and existing buildings within the college. In the process of creating their proposals, students complete four formal writing and communication assignments:

1. They write definitions of engineering concepts for a technical audience (CoE decision makers) and a non-technical audience (exhibit visitors).
2. They write a process description and procedural document. The process description introduces stakeholders to individual exhibit designs, interactive components, and exhibit learning outcomes. The procedural document provides visitors with step-by-step instructions for interacting with the engineering exhibits.
3. They design and deliver professional-quality, image-based team presentations that introduce the exhibits to CoE decision makers.
4. They produce a final formal proposal that synthesizes the team’s individual writing assignments from the term into a single, cohesive, and persuasive document.

In addition to these four formal assignments, students complete other coursework that provides opportunities to practice skills in collaboration, professionalism, project organization, problem solving, and peer evaluation.

I like the curriculum for the f2f course (I’ve learned a lot of cool stuff about engineering!), and students say they really enjoy the creative components and the collaborative work (aka social networking :) ). So I plan to keep the “real-world” scenario and assignments in the new hybrid course. But I’ll have to make substantial changes to the structure to fit a hybrid schedule–and I’m very excited about the potential learning outcomes of those changes!

F2F Structure: The Way It Is Now
My current f2f WR 327e course is delivered in a Tuesday-lecture-and-new-information/Thursday-skills-application-in-the-lab format: I deliver new content via lecture, presentations, and videos during one session per week, and students work collaboratively (in teams and with me) on classroom computers during the other class session. Homework consists of online team collaboration, readings, and writing tasks.

The results produced by this format are pretty solid: students learn new skills and write better papers. But there’s no ignoring the fact that most students find lectures boring and hard to follow. In fact, the human brain isn’t even designed to effectively absorb and retain new information delivered in a long-lecture format. So the move away from long-winded monologues can only be a good thing for students (and for me).

Hybrid Structure: The New Way
The hybrid course by definition requires a very different kind of structure for content delivery, and that structure provides a number of benefits. For example, students can pace their learning to meet their individual needs. And the College of Engineering only needs to schedule one computer lab to accommodate two WR 327e sections. But, to me, the most exciting benefit of the course redesign is this: I get to eliminate potentially (or inevitably?) boring and forgettable in-class lectures that put a damper on my students’ (and my) day. And I get to replace those lectures with narrated interactive presentations, links to professional engineering documents for student analysis, and great videos (like this Ted Talk on Body Language by Amy Cuddy)–all delivered online. Reading quizzes and class discussions of writing principles will also take place remotely, ensuring that weekly lab sessions are freed up for f2f collaboration, assignment clarifications, and 1-on-1 instructor/student interactions.

In a nutshell, here is my vision for the hybrid WR 327e course: Multi-media, image-focused, and interactive online materials combined with instructor/student/peer collaboration and application in the lab will actively engage students in their own learning experience. And I’ll be a step closer to achieving my own secret goal: to finally convince students that engineering communication is important, achievable, and yes– even a little bit cool!

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My hybrid course in a nutshell: Remixing Jane Austen

For this hybrid course, I’m creating a hybrid version of OSU’s First-Year Seminar course (commonly called U-Engage).  U-Engage are all built around some common learning outcomes, and there are some required activities that support these outcomes.  They are all different, though, focused on an academic theme or significant question.

I’ve taught U-Engage before, so I am drawing on that experience. But the specific focus of this class, remixing Jane Austen, is something new.  While the focus of the course will be the novels of Jane Austen, these texts are really a jumping off point to examine the broader question of how culture is made, and how creativity builds on the past.  This topic lends itself well to a close examination of how information is organized, preserved and used – on both a practice and a policy level.

The works of Jane Austen are, of course in the public domain and in the last two decades they’ve been remixed and re-created into an astonishing variety of forms — written as mysteries, romances, graphic novelspicture books and choose-your-own adventures.  The stories have been remixed as board games and role-playing games – and filmed in modern settings, as period pieces, turned into web series and more.  Part of the out-of-classroom work in this course will be exploring some of these many forms.


For their primary project, students will create their own remixed narratives using a variety of tools.  In-class time will be largely be focused on hands-on activities in a digital lab-type setting.  In these labs we will explore different tools and how they can be used to create narratives, and dive into the legal/economic frameworks that affect creative work  - particularly fair use and copyright.

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