My Humanizing Reflections

A big goal I came to the class with was how to assist students to understand the value of social presence in online courses, and how to synthesize content with the social presence so students don't perceive the social elements as "extra." These students would not connect with music streams or games as part of the course--they just wouldn't do them. Certain student populations, who are "accidental" online learners (who don't like online formats, but can't make f2f work for various reasons) dislike social elements in online courses because they don't buy into or know the connection between social and learning. I teach required general studies courses primarily to  local college students who want to reduce on-campus time. They feel connected to their on-campus cohort, and aren't seeking community online (as much as they should). But isolated students are also present in the classroom; they end up feeling ignored by the on-campus set. Students sometimes don't realize the complex ways they need to get beyond their first reactions ("Not everyone needs the virtual hugs" as Patrick L. put it.) Thinking about ways to "engage people in fun unexpected and playful ways," as Joni put it, was very welcome, particularly the design-based ideas.

My favorite ideas from this week included using video in a less frequent, more focused way. "What's most important for one student isn't for another" from the week 3 webinar spoke to me. It's possible to reach out to students in ways they don't value, and miss ones they do value. I loved the idea of 4 optional office hour "Happy Hours" for students. Video conferencing technology can be too complicated in my entry-level courses, and I want students to get both social engagement and content if they go to the trouble of participating. I'm eager to hear what Patrick found about video announcements in his research.

Another idea related to video I appreciated was combining tools. A more intelligent use of video that would reward the viewership is to use Padlet as a container for "muddiest points" from one week, and base weekly announcements on what students contribute to the Padlet. That sequence builds both presence and awareness. This idea can be structured into the whole course (and only when needed). I also appreciated ideas for lower-tech options, too. Very much!

And finally, I've been a big fan of the valuable research, sharing, and scholarship I've seen come from Michelle--and am very happy to get the chance to learn more from her since I first saw her present in 2009 or so. More classes please!

Questions

  1. One thing that's not been addressed is knowing what's too much in terms of presence, empathy, and awareness. A professional distance is necessary, as are boundaries, because of the evaluative role instructors play. We aren't just coaches; we assign grades. I don't like C students less than A students; social presence is sometimes perceived as "brown-nosing." As an online student, I'm not crazy about over-achiever students who plaster replies everywhere in discussions or instructors who respond to everything. [Strangely, these over-posters often drop] I find this over-participation oppressive (and I'm not talking about my experience in this course, by the way) and discourages others from participating. How much is too much? How much is too little?
  2. I've been converted to VoiceThread since I saw a presentation from Michelle in 2009 or so. But I've never successfully persuaded my school to purchase a site license, which would allow LTI integration. (Individual Instructors here pay the $100 each out of pocket.) We are such a large school (40,000), the VoiceThread expense is large, too. Only a very small number of students/instructors would actually use VoiceThread...has anyone been able to negotiate a cheap site licence so the few online instructors who need it can integrate to gradebook? And how?
  3. I'm already paying for VoiceThread. I'd like to know what other online tool subscriptions should I pay money for (since all subscriptions come out of my pocket). Canva? Tackk? Populr.me?

Comment Stream

2 years ago
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GREAT reflections and questions, Martha! I hope others jump in here to reply to your questions, as I am sure many share them. About the VT site license, I hear this from many, many faculty and 1) I think it's important for VoiceThread to hear from you about these struggles and 2) VT is good about crafting licenses to meet the needs of an institution. Pull them into this conversation and see what you can come up with. The contact there is Amanda Volz (amanda@voicethread.net).

2 years ago
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In response to question 1, knowing what is too much, I think this is the tough part. This is where each instructor needs to follow her/his instinct. It's a balance, yes, and as I listened to Patrick and Joanna, I found myself thinking how not only is each student different, but every class is different too. There are some classes that bond exceptionally well and others, well, that just don't. By the way, I too teach gen ed classes online. I totally understand what you mean about some students not wanting the social experience. But I've also found that students who feel they don't want it, have often never experienced social presence. When they do, some of them have a change of heart. Be sure to have your students reflect at the end of the term. The Wisdom Wall (included in Week 3) is really great for this. You just might be surprised by what your students share!

2 years ago
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Question 3: What other online tool subscriptions should I pay for? How I'd like to say, "None" here! I'm not a fan of seeing faculty pay out of pocket for tools to teach with. But this is part of our struggle today. Honestly, the only tool I pay for is Piktochart (an infographic creation tool, that is awesome!). Tackk is free. Populr.me has a free educator account (Pro account at no cost), which is included in our content. I use Canva a lot and while my account is free, I have paid a few dollars here and there toward their premium images. Sometimes they have just what I need and paying $1 seems worth it to me. I hope that helps. I'd love to hear what others think about this.