Author Archives: Janine Lim

Getting Ready for USDLA National Conference 2017

Are you going to the USDLA National Conference next week? I am. Hope to see you there! Here are some bits I’m looking forward to:

  1. Indianapolis! USDLA has been in St. Louis for as long as I can remember (well, I first learned about USDLA in 2008, so that’s not so long ago compared to the 30 years anniversary USDLA is celebrating this year!) USDLA board member, Samantha Penney, has put together a great little collection of things to know about Indy and the attractions nearby. Maybe I’ll get a chance to see the White River State Park!
  2. Elliot Masie is doing the opening keynote – that is bound to be an amazing experience!
  3. Darcy Hardy’s preconference on strategic planning. Hoping to pick a few tips and possibly find some holes in our strategic planning that I can get ideas to fill!
  4. Bill Jackson Sunrise Run/Walk. It’s always fun to get up in the morning and see professional colleagues in their running gear! Curious to see what Indy sights we’ll see on our run/walk this year!
  5. Scavenger Hunt on Sunday night. These activities are fun for meeting people. One thing I love about USDLA is that as the conference goes on, you start recognizing more people because there are so many opportunities to be together and learn from each other.
  6. A great line-up of sessions. Of course it’s always hard to choose. This year, it seems everyone really got their racing hats on when writing session titles. Usually there’s a few people who take the theme into their session in creatives ways too. Looking forward to lots of good learning!

Your Turn

What about you? Going to USDLA? What are you hoping to learn? And/or, is there another conference that’s your favorite? What have you picked up recently that you’re applying now in your distance learning work?

Zoom Integration with Moodle and Other Learning Management Systems

Recently one of my team returned from a conference and shared how everyone was interested in how we integrate Zoom with Moodle at Andrews University. I thought then that I’d share here how we do that.

Our Moodle is currently hosted with Moonami, but this strategy should work for you, however you are hosting Moodle. In addition, most learning management systems allow for some HTML in announcement features, discussion forums, anywhere you can post text. So this strategy should work well elsewhere too.

Set up a Recurring Meeting for the Course

First, we recommend our faculty set up a recurring meeting for the course so that students can always use the same link to attend class. This works even if you are sharing the Zoom account across a department, because each course could have it’s own recurring meeting, as long as someone makes sure they aren’t scheduled at the same time. Our departments who share Zoom usually have an administrative assistant keeping an eye on that.

Link the Meeting in an HTML Block

After the link is set up, then we create a little HTML block (in BrightSpace this is a widget) to show prominently within the course as shown:

 

The block has a link to the meeting room for the course, and the materials are linked to our simple QuickGuide on how Zoom works. (See our other QuickGuides)

The HTML for this block is shared below. The bold sections are where you’ll need to make changes for your situation.

<p><img src=”http://link to your Zoom image here” width=”180″ height=”39″ style=”display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;” /></p>

<p style=”text-align: center;”>This course features live webinars. <br />Click on “<strong>Meeting Room</strong>” below<br />to connect and participate</p>

<p style=”text-align: center;”><strong><a href=”https://link to your Zoom Room here” title=”Zoom Webinar” target=”_blank”>Meeting Room</a></strong><br />

<strong><a href=”http://Link to your Zoom instructions here” title=”Zoom Usage Instructions” target=”_blank”>Support Materials</a></strong></p>

Other Uses for HTML Blocks

And, voila! Now you have an HTML block featuring Zoom on the front page of the course. This little trick is great for many features that you might want to add to your online courses! I like to use the HTML block also for:

  • Contact information and photo for the instructor
  • Student support services info, links, phone numbers
  • A list of important deadlines – withdrawal dates, last day for a full refund, etc.
  • A short version of the suggested schedule for organizing assigned work each week

Your Turn

Do you have a strategy like this in your LMS? Share your tips or questions in the comments below!

Top Tools for Supporting Dissertations

Last week we looked at tips for managing the dissertation advising process for online PhDs. This week, let’s look at a variety of tools for supporting the dissertation process.

Collecting and Formatting References

  • A reference manager. First and foremost, you absolutely must start using a  reference manager, if you haven’t already. While it takes a bit to set up, it will save you hours in the long run, making sure that all references are properly cited. The top tools are listed below. The Barnard Library has created a useful comparison of the three.
  • Tutorials. I created this collection of tutorials when I was starting my PhD. While the software specifics might have changed slightly over time, the principles of how to organize yourself for reference collection are still useful.
  • Smart use of Google Scholar. Have you noticed that if you’re on campus at your university, and you use Google Scholar, all the references link to databases subscribed to by your library? What if you’re off campus though? Here are a couple of tips.
    • Check your Google Scholar settings. Select your university’s library under Libraries.
    • Set it to automatically save to your reference software, such as EndNote while you’re there. This will provide a direct link to import in the GoogleScholar results, as shown below.
    • Collect references and PDFs as you work. Here’s a tutorial I did for my graduate social media class in the fall of 2015 on how to find the PDFs after doing a Google Scholar search. Be a good researcher, and don’t just read the abstracts! Read, collect, and cite the full article!

Note Taking

Next, it’s a good idea to create a habit of taking notes on your reading. It could be scribbles, bullet points, short bits. But be writing in your own words about your literature reading.

  • Evernote. I’m a huge Evernote fan. The point of Evernote is to clip EVERYTHING you might want to remember. Yyu can grab pictures, pieces of websites, snapshots of text that is then searchable, etc. You can search it at any time for whatever you need. It’s like having a second brain. My Evernote is a huge searchable collection bin – interesting articles, random thoughts I scribble down, results from SPSS with scribbled thinking, etc. Keeping a research notebook is a good habit to establish. It will help with your academic publishing as well. And dissertation advisors, you can use it to keep notes on the dissertations you’re supporting!
  • Blogging. I am one who likes to learn publicly. Depending on your audience and your dissertation topic, you may find this strategy helpful as well. This page has my collection of PhD blog posts – on my dissertation, my literature review, and other topics I studied. I have always found writing to learn helps cement new knowledge in my brain. Tools for blogging include:
  • Writing Daily. There are some interesting tools out there to help you get in the habit of writing daily. You should be generating text on a regular basis, even if it is draft thinking, prewriting, or outlining. If you don’t want to write publicly, like on a blog, another great option is 750Words. This tool motivates and tracks your regular writing habit. Wondering what to write daily? Try these tips for applying the 750-1000 words-a-day habit to your dissertation.

Notifications

How are you keeping tabs on your topic or field? Here are some notifications you should have set up already:

  • Subscribing to journals. Almost every journal has a way to subscribe to the Table of Contents updates. Sign up for your favorites to keep tabs on the field. Read titles quickly, don’t get distracted!
  • Google Alerts. Did you know you can set up alerts to monitor the web, your reputation, your topic? Google Scholar has alerts also. Let the web come to you!
  • Academic social networks also provide alerts and notifications on topics and researchers:

Tracking Progress

How are you tracking your progress? One of my favorite books on writing is How to Write a Lot. One of the excellent suggestions there is to track your progress. Count:

  • Time spent writing
  • Words generated
  • Note the topic/task/project you were working on

Note how my spreadsheet for writing tracking looks:


Or, you can try one of many goal setting apps to track your progress. Set goals and track them.

What gets measured gets done!


Editing

Finally, a few tools for editing your writing:

  • Grammarly. This free grammar checker can assist you in creating academic prose.
  • TurnItIn. Find out from your university ed tech tool helpdesk how you can use TurnItIn to check your ability to cite your sources well. Or your university may provide resources in the dissertation preparation courses.
  • Color edits. Another of my favorite writing books is Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks. This book has an awesome section on using colors to edit your writing. I’ve found it incredibly helpful.

Your Turn

What would you add? Are there other tasks or components of the dissertation process that you use another tool to support? Do any of these tools also work for you? Please comment!

Dissertation Advising at a Distance

One of the challenges of online PhDs is how to keep a good dissertation advising process working, mediated by technology to bridge space and time. In an on-campus PhD, a student has the benefit of a community: fellow students hanging out in the library; walking into the office of dissertation committee members and advisers; graduate student lounge; graduate student association activities.

However, the online PhD experience may be lonely and challenging. So, let’s look at some tips from the student and the faculty perspectives.

Writing with pen, paper, and laptop

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Tips for Online PhD Students

Many of these tips come from my own experience with an adjunct methodologist. What would you add?

  • Adapt to your adviser’s style. I had an amazing methodologist; but at first I was frustrated with how low-tech he was. I wanted to videoconference; he used the phone. I wanted to email my documents; he wanted a hard copy. I later learned what an expense it would be to an adjunct methodologist to print; so now I better appreciate his requirement of mailing. I adapted by buying the flat rate mailers; and soon found that this strategy contributed to a faster turn around time.
  • Summarize notes. As soon as we got off the phone, usually about a 30 minute conversation, I would take my scribbles and write them up into official notes and email them back to him. I did this recap to help keep the information in my brain. I always felt like it was falling out of my head. But another huge benefit was a record of what we had discussed, a todo list of what I was supposed to do next. This made it easier for my adviser to keep track of my progress.
  • Use a recording device. It’s a great idea to use some type of method to record the conversation with your dissertation chair or advisers. This allows you to go back and listen to it again. Often as students, the information overload causes us to miss something. Hearing it again and ensuring that we’ve responded to all feedback makes for a more efficient and pleasant process for everyone involved.
  • Respond to feedback soon. Don’t procrastinate in working on the changes or next steps discussed in the meeting. The longer you wait, the fuzzier the concepts get in your brain. Do it soon! I usually talked to my methodologist on Fridays, and then Sundays I’d do the work that we discussed; trying to get another version in the mail by Monday.
  • Plan for “waiting” jobs. Plan to have some things to work on while you’re waiting for feedback. One easy job is making sure your references are in your software tool (Endnote, Zotero, etc.) and are correct. Check the caps on all the titles. Check the page numbers. etc. This will help you stay in “dissertation mode” and will save you in the long run when you get to final editing stage.

Tips for Professors Mentoring Online Dissertation Students

  • Schedule regular meetings. Your on campus students have easier access to you. They can pop by your office. But your online students only have phone and email. If you don’t respond to email quickly, they can feel neglected. An easy way to resolve this challenge is to schedule regular meetings. This provides deadlines for both you and the student.
  • Schedule your reading time. Put an appointment on your calendar to schedule time to read and prepare feedback. What gets scheduled gets done!
  • Use a videoconference tool. Our institution uses Zoom, which allows several features that can be helpful in discussing writing: screen sharing, annotation, and recording. Depending on the tool, have the student record so the recording is on their computer. Videoconferencing is as close to face to face as you can get at a distance; and the ability to get tone of voice and body language enhances the interaction significantly. Your academic technology office probably supports a similar tool and can provide access and training.
  • Use TurnItIn. Use TurnItIn to check for proper citation early and often. Your academic technology office should be able to set you up with a space for dissertations. TurnItIn can even be set up for students to have access to see the results to help improve their citations.

Your Turn

What would you add? What have you found as essential tips or tools for online PhD students – from the student or the faculty perspective? Please comment!

Making Web Friendly Link Collections

Lately I’ve been seeing several collections of resources and web links come in from faculty for their online courses. I thought I’d write a few tips on how to make these collections web-friendly and easy for students to use.

First: Why?

First, think about why you are giving these web links to students. What do you expect them to do with them?

  • Are they supplemental resources?
  • Are students expected to complete an assignment after visiting the links? Is there a concept or principle they should be looking for as they peruse your resource list?
  • Should they read some of them? how should they choose?
  • Is it for extra practice? How would students know if they need extra practice?

Think this through, then make it clear in the instructions provided with the links.

Second: Link Specific Words

Note the difference between these:

How to make a web link in Word: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Create-or-edit-a-hyperlink-5d8c0804-f998-4143-86b1-1199735e07bf

OR

Click this link to learn how to make a web link in Word

OR

How to make a web link in Word

Which one is easier to read? I hope you chose the latter!

  • Write specific words. Either the reason to click the link. Or the title of the website. Something specific. Avoid “click here”!
  • Link the words. Find the URL/web address and copy it. After you’ve written the specific words, then highlight the words, select the link tool, and paste the URL. Voila!

Tips for Links

  • Ctrl K works in many places to jump directly to making a link. In Word, in WordPress, probably in your Learning Management System.
  • Word and PDFs. If you are putting Word files or PDFs in your course, make sure all the links are set up like this before you upload. When you save from Word to PDF, usually your PDF writer will make the links active.
    • Find the URL/web address and copy it.
    • Write specific words.
    • Highlight the words.
    • Select the link tool, and paste the URL.
  • Discussion, Annoucements, Labels. In your Learning Management System, you have multiple opportunities to write content. In all of these places, you can add links. Make a good linking habit. Write specific words. Link the words. Don’t just paste the long and ugly URL!
  • Moodle “Page” In your Learning Management System, there is probably a tool that lets you create content. In this tool, you can also, write specific words, link the words.

 

Write Specific Words. Link the Words.

Got it? Your LMS helpdesk can probably assist you with this if you need additional help. It’s a simple thing, but it will make your online content look much more professional. It will also increase the likelihood that your students will actually click the links!

Taking the Teaching Perspective

Have you ever been really ticked because someone didn’t do something the way you wanted them to? Have you ever seen someone else really frustrated because they aren’t getting the results they want? Have you ever been frustrated that your students weren’t responding the way you wanted?

Recently, a fellow faculty member commented,

I tell my students to only spend an hour on this assignment. If they don’t have it done in an hour, to write on it what they tried, where they are frustrated, and just turn it in.

Because if they can’t do it, it’s because I didn’t teach it well enough, and I need to teach it better.

These situations can happen all the time! Frustration explodes!

Man putting fist through laptop

Photo credit: SaintLuxx

  • An administrator frustrated that a faculty member isn’t accomplishing assessment tasks as desired.
  • A teacher frustrated that students aren’t making the desired progress.
  • A committee leader frustrated that the members aren’t doing their part.

Blame

Who’s to blame in these situations? Is it the student or teacher? Leader or follower? Both sides?

Taking the Teaching Perspective

I’m not sure if I’m crazy, but I always think of professional development, teaching, training, in situations of conflict and unmet expectations.

  • Were the necessary resources provided?
  • Was the task or expectation scaffolded?
  • Is the underlying concept clear?
  • Are there some missing steps from point A to point B that weren’t clear in the instructions or expectations?
  • In online environments, were the needed resources and instructions where the student was expected to use it? i.e. instructions near or in the spot where they turn in the work?

In higher education, often the attitude is that the student should “come and get it” and it’s their responsibility whether they are successful or not.

Yet, one could take the teaching perspective. One could try to understand where the other person is coming from. One could try to consider the novice perspective vs. one’s own expert perspective.

Your Turn

  • What do you think? Is there a limit to this concept?
  • What does it take for someone to be able to see another’s perspective?
  • Should the teacher/leader take all the responsibility for failure? Where does this break down?
  • Is it useful to consider the teaching perspective in a conflict?

Tips for Teachers: From Being a New Online Student

Last year about this time, I joined an online fitness program called The Unbreakable Body. While it’s been helpful for my fitness (that’s a different story), I have found myself constantly reflecting on what it has felt like to be out of my element in something new.

Feeling New and Uncertain Online

I think that’s how our online students feel sometimes, particularly their first time.

Unsure. Second guessing myself. Wondering if I’m on the right track. Needing reassurance.

Every time I tried something in the site, I was online asking questions. I felt so much like I was asking stupid questions. Being a pain. Taking up too much time.

Let’s face it, freaked out! Trying to have the courage to face the big unknown. Dipping my toe in the water.

Girl dipping toe in water

Photo Credit: Max Pixel Free Great Picture

The Power of Encouragement

The thing that kept me going was amazing answers to emails! Answers came so quickly! Yes, of course, during business hours. I expect people to sleep. 🙂

The emails always made me smile!

  • They always started with gladness and joy that I was doing the program
  • Sandwiched in the middle was the answer to my question
  • Often the emails ended with something funny; always with an invitation to ask any other questions

How essential was that communication to keep me going!

Translating to Online Teaching

So how does that translate to our online teaching?

I’ve always felt that the first couple weeks in an online course are CRITICAL, and that one cannot OVER COMMUNICATE in the first weeks. Huge encouragement, calling, reminding, making sure everyone knows what to do. It pays off in a significant reduction in questions, confusion, and procrastination towards the end of class. For example:

  • I’m so glad you’ve joined this class.
  • Thank you for writing in with your question.
  • Let’s schedule a phone call and talk this over!
  • Awesome that you’ve gotten started with your studies! Congratulations on the first steps!
  • The sun is shining in my window as I write to you; I pray it’s shining on your studies too.

Be cheery. Be personal. Be you. Encourage.

Fast Response Time

A fast response time means so much. A face to face student can come stand in your office door. An online student only has your phone or email. Get back to them soon. Even if it’s just to say that you’re working on the situation and will get back soon.

As the nervous new online fitness student, I kept thinking and wondering about my question while I was waiting for an answer. A quick response set my mind at ease and sent me continuing down my learning path.

Experience Newness Yourself

If you haven’t experienced learning something new lately, find something new to learn. Doesn’t even have to be online. But feel that new-to-you feeling.

Then keep that in mind as you interact with your online students. Be encouraging!

 

Shorter Time between Assignments for Success in Self-Paced Courses

As a follow-up to a study published earlier in 2016, I have another research article examining student behavior in self-paced courses…

See the out of sequence article for some background and previous work…

Do an Online Assignment Out of Sequence to Be More Successful

In this latest article, I looked at three measures of student delay behavior (is it delay or procrastination? That’s a whole field of study too!): 

  • the days between registration date and first date of assignment submission (Days to Start)
  • the average days between assignment submissions (Days between Assignments)
  • total days between registration and completion (Days to Complete)

Of these three, the average length of time between assignment submissions was found to be most useful to predict final letter grade and withdrawal. Students with shorter amounts of time between assignments were more likely to complete successfully.

Check out the full article online in the Distance Education journal.

While one could argue that an instructor is needed to keep students’ on pace, some of the students in this study did very well on keeping a regular pace. That self-regulation skill is critical for life, don’t you think? Good to learn and practice.

What do you think?

Do you think that learning analytics such as this, watching student behavior in an online course, is useful for predicting completion? useful for planning interventions for students not doing so well? Is it intrusive or useful? Should we try to find a threshold for success? If we did, what interventions might be appropriate? What questions does this result raise in your mind? Please comment.

Last Bits from IFWE 2016

I’m attending the IFWE 2016 conference in San Antonio, TX and this is my last blog post, wrapping up my learning. Here are some snippets from the last sessions I attended.

15 Tips When Working With New Technologies and Learning Ideas

Description: After working with faculty and technology in a variety of positions in Distance Learning, this presenter has discovered 15 tips on how to work with all these new-fangled learning techniques and/or technologies. Come join us to learn!

Presented by: Diana Amis (University of Texas at San Antonio)

This session was targeted to those who might get frustrated or overwhelmed with new tools and technologies. These 15 tips help you tackle something new in a logical manner: 

  1. Breathe!
  2. Patience is a Virtue
  3. Fresh Set of Eyes
  4. Take a Brain Break
  5. Stressing out is not worth it
  6. Time Management
  7. Chunking
  8. Bridging the Gap/ Filling a Need
  9. Baby Steps
  10. If all else fails, ask questions
  11. Communication
  12. Support – call the company
  13. Trial version – test it out
  14. Contact Info for the company
  15. Does it apply – do you need it?

A Matter of Trust: Technology and Privacy in eLearning Environments

Description: This session will discuss educational privacy issues online, with a brief overview of relevant federal and state laws. A possible framework within which to address privacy – and to contribute to an environment of trust – in our online distance courses and communities will be proposed and shared.

Presented by: Susan Stephan (Nova Southeastern University)

This was a great session that I decided not to blog because we had such interesting discussions about things that don’t have a black/white answer. It was really interesting to go to this session on the same day that I attended the learning analytics session. The unique angle that Susan brings to the idea of privacy issues is the trust side. The learning exchange is really a matter of trust between the institution, the faculty, and the students. I learned about a few issues that I’m going to go back and check out. I also really enjoyed the conversations on whether or not it matters that our privacy is so eroded. Fascinating!

Delivering Innovation and Entrepreneurship to the MENA Region

Presented by: Meghan Kent (Stanford University) and Ireen Massis (Stanford University)

Description: During 2015 – 2016 Stanford University designed and delivered a curriculum in Innovation and Entrepreneurship to promote gender equality in the labor force in the MENA region. The curriculum was distributed virtually, allowing for unlimited scale of and the highest possible impact to the region. During this session we will share the initial needs, survey results from the pilot program, and our own observations, obstacles, and solutions. Furthermore, we will share our findings from women who have taken the course and the impact that it has had on their academic, personal, and professional lives.

This was a fascinating project. They basically had a specific course that they wrote so that faculty in UAE could use it as a “course in a box” – it was a course on innovation and entrepreneurship. The cultural differences made the project an interesting process journey – lots of learning shared out of that. 

Women & Gaming: Educational Gaming for All

Presented by: Amber Muenzenberger (Triseum, LLC) and Shawna Fletcher (Texas A&M University)

Description: Gaming has grown immensely over the last decade, including using games for education and professional development. There are a growing number of gamers around the world, including women. Join the conversation of gender roles in gaming, ties between gaming and elevated interests STEM careers, and inclusion of gameplay in education.

Amber sure has some good work going on! She’s at Triseum – and they’ve built two cool education games – Arte Mecanas – an art history game; and Variant – coming soon – that teaches calculus (aligned to AP too). These are for the college level. Interesting data and experiences shared on how males and females are playing games – how much time, what devices, etc. What a powerful discussion among the women attending. 

Wrap Up

So, wow, IFWE! First time. It happens every two years. It’s time to plan for 2018! Mark your calendars. It’s an amazing experience – networking, support, life coaching, great e-learning!

A Beginner’s Guide to Learning Analytics

I’m attending the IFWE 2016 conference in San Antonio, TX and live blogging sessions. One more session till lunch! Be sure to follow the #ifwe2016 hashtag on Twitter if you want to learn about what else is going on here!

Presented by: Mindy Menn (Texas Woman’s University)

Description: What do novices need to know about learning analytics? How can learning analytics be leveraged to improve online programs and students’ experiences in online programs? Find out during this session addressing the basics of learning analytics.

Learning Analytics Introductions

Foldable note taking from

Foldable note taking from “To Engage Them All” blog

Interesting bits from the introductions. Someone wants to understand better the difference between learning analytics and analytics. One institution is starting a learning analytics committee. One instructional design specialist does analytics as well as instructional design. Someone from Penn State is working on a custom dashboard of learning analytics. Another person is looking at how to give faculty learning analytic data to empower them.

Mindy had a really cool colored folding paper strategy. 5 sheets of colored paper, spread them apart and then fold so you have 9-10 layered and colorful places to write. This page has an example – scroll down.

Learning Analytics Definition and Limitations

  • It’s measurement, collection, analysis, report of data
  • It’s about the LEARNERS
  • We want the learners to benefit
  • “spot hidden trends and predict outcomes”
  • “organize, store and mine data to improve teaching and learning for all students” – it’s not just the at-risk students – it’s for everyone – including the bored students
  • It is a research domain and a field
  • It overlaps with other fields – computer science, machine learning, statistics (lots of different regressions to predict relationships), big data, etc.
  • It cannot make taking action easier
  • It won’t be a magic solution
  • It can never perfectly predict anything – remember your stats class!

Learning Analytics Questions

Some examples of things that we can look at with learning analytics…

  • What registrar/institutional data provides insights to students’ progress?
  • How does student’s video watching correlate with their course success?
  • How does the time submitted compare with course performance?
  • How does success in a specific course correlate with degree success?
  • What are online learning behaviors and what do they tell us? When do they login? When do they logout? What do students click on?
  • Who talks to who and how many responses in discussion forums?
  • What signals do we have in courses where we might need to update something in the course? or to send students to a service to assist them with their study skills…

People who are interested in it….

  • Learners – they are concerned about how we analyze their data, but also the data can be used to help give advice to them or to help them improve their practice
  • Instructors
  • Administrators – academic analytics are a little different – learning analytics is purely on the learner; academic is more about the whole university
  • Researchers

Resources

What Next?

It’s important to know what your question is – which depends on your role… the stats people who can help you are going to want to know your question. So you need a narrow question. Not just to track and know everything!

Takeaways

I guess I really am doing learning analytics with my recent publications:

This is a huge area of interest to me. What data do we have? How can we collect it? How can we track it over time? How can we use it to monitor and improve the success of our online courses and programs? And how do we do it well and ethically?