Thursday, May 23, 2013

What you don't know can kill your course.


Learning from Failure

In designing and delivering an asynchronous online training for teachers in my district, I failed to understand the importance of several key factors to the successful launch of a course.  The first training launched in the spring of 2012, and I used my MacBook Pro© and Google Chrome© to build the course in our district LMS, Blackboard©.  When teachers began taking the course, there were a lot of complaints that the system was difficult, that videos did not play, or that links mentioned in the course were not appearing on the screen.  As I researched these issues, I discovered the following:
1.     Google Chrome© is not a supported browser for Blackboard©.
2.     Internet Explorer© 7 was an obsolete browser for Blackboard©, but was the predominant default browser on all teacher use computers at the time of launch. 
3.     Participant computers needed updated Flash© plug-ins to play videos.

Needless to say, these issues greatly frustrated the participants, many of whom were not confident in their abilities to use technology and therefore felt defeated by the training.  

Fast-forward one year and the latest roll-out of the training contains some useful introductory information concerning expectations for the course, navigation directions, and technical requirements.  I have used familiar symbols to guide my learners through the course since many of them are new to online learning.  Similarly, images of the log-in page with browser check requirements are posted.  Our Blackboard© Administrator actually added the browser compliance check after feedback from me in the first training roll out.  

Content from Blended Learning Training: Roadsigns to Point the Way

(USDT, 2009)
   Throughout this online course you will see signs and directions similar to the question mark sign to the left.  A guide for all the signs in the course is shown below.  Note that some signs point out the direction you will need to scroll to see the next piece of the training, some point out informational text, others show where a particular action is needed on your part, and finally there are signs to indicate the end of a portion or the end of the course.
Read through the information below to note the method for directing you through what you should do each step of the way.

Roadsigns used in this course.

(USDT, 2009)
Information Sign:  This sign indicates some information you will need to read before proceeding.
(USDT, 2009)

One-Way Sign:  This sign indicates that you should proceed to the next section of the module.
(USDT, 2009)

Road Work Sign:  This sign indicates that some work is required before proceeding to the next section.
To the right of this sign, you will find the directions to complete the work.
(USDT, 2009)

Exit Only Sign:  This sign indicates the end of a module.  Below this sign, you will find directions for navigating to the next module.
(USDT, 2009)

Playground Sign:  This sign is only found at the end of the orientation, indicating that it is time for you to take what you have learned and go play in your own online classes.

United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration, (2009).  United States road symbol signs.  Manual on Uniform Control Traffic Devices (MUCTD).  PDF Retrieved From:

Make your first impression a good one!

In an online course, there is only one chance at a first impression.  As I designed this course, careful consideration was taken to address the analyzed needs of my learners.  As an added level of review, I asked my neighbor who is retired, aged 69, and not a computer user (except for looking up motorcycles on Craigslist) to navigate the course and provide constructive criticism.  His honest thoughts as he test-drove the course helped show me areas that were unclear to an objective participant.  This new and improved version launched in April 2013 and has received reviews that clearly show that learners are engaging with the content instead of the helpdesk!

Screen shot of the landing page of the orientation, a fun character greets the learner, directions are provided on next steps, and narrative text is available to support universal design for learning.

Here is the snail greeter for the course, made with Voki. He is at the top of each page to provide structure and continuity, and I placed him at the end to give a pat on the back to participants as they completed the training.

"“Welcome to this online familiarization session for blended learning.  As many of you, are new to the fully online experience, road-signs have been put into this course to guide you through each step of the learning.  Take a look below to see the signs you will encounter in this course.  This page contains essential information for our online journey.  Take some time to scroll down and begin your online learning experience. Oh, and be sure to follow the road signs!  I look forward to seeing you again in Module 1!”"

Friday, May 10, 2013

Online Learning Communities

While the traditional classroom remains teacher centered, the online environment fosters more interaction among students and is one of the cited benefits of online learning by both teachers and students (Stacey, & Wiesenberg, 2007).  Although considerable time is needed to build the course material prior to launching the course, teachers have seen growth in their craft by the reflective practice of reviewing their content for delivery online and in the rich discussions students create online and which instructors facilitate rather than dictate (So, & Bush, 2008). 

Students have access to the material and can participate online in ways that are difficult to manage in a face-to-face, synchronous manner. Students further develop skills in time-management and technology proficiency that will serve them well in further study and the career environment (Allen, Seaman, & Garrett, 2007).   The restriction of location is mitigated as well by the online environment; students receive the benefit of a greater amount of viewpoints when the student base is diverse.
While there are numerous benefits for online learning, several issues remain to threaten the efficacy of this method of instruction.  Teachers must be clear and structured in their online environment so that students understand what is to be done online and how to accomplish the assigned tasks (Stacey, & Weisenberg, 2007).  Students also need to see that the online component is complimenting the traditional instruction without doubling the workload (So, & Bush, 2008).

Student Engagement from a frustrated student’s perspective:

Role of teachers in the digital age:


Online communities offer an opportunity for students to gain valuable skills that will serve them well in their offline lives.  Well-planned online content that allows for student interaction, both fosters a collegial mentality while deepening the knowledge of the student (Stacey, & Weisenberg, 2007).  Wise use of the online environment builds community and strengthens face-to-face interactions (So, & Bush, 2008).  For teachers who pay attention to student workload and facilitate their online environment, the benefits are greater for blended classroom instruction than either virtual or face-to-face methods alone (Gedik, Kiraz, & Özden, 2012).


Allen, E. I., Seaman, J., & Garrett, R. (2007).  Blending In: The extent and promise of
blended education in the United States. Sloan Consortium [Sloan-C].  Needham, MA.
Gedik, N., Kiraz, E., & Özden, M. Y. (2012).  The optimum blend: Affordances and
challenges of blended learning for students.  Turkish Online Journal of Qualitative Inquiry, July 2012, 3(3), 102-117.
So, H., & Bush, T. A. (2008).  Student perceptions of collaborative learning, social
presence and satisfaction in a blended learning environment: Relationships and critical factors.  Computers & Education, 51, 318-336.
Stacey, E. & Wiesenberg, F. (2007).  A study of face-to-face and online teaching
philosophies in Canada and Australia.  Journal of Distance Education, 22(1), 19-40.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Welcome Online Instructional Strategies Cohort!

Over the next few months, this blog will focus on online instructional strategies as I prepare to dive into building and delivering quality online instruction.  I'm looking forward to a terrific learning community and constructing knowledge with purpose.