Emily Leonhardt

Reflection of Online Course Design

The End of the Road

Well, I’ve made it to the end! My course is complete (even though I’m not sure that is ever really possible) and the course is finished. This last blog post is about what I learned. In my last post I discussed how it is important to not only give students feedback, but also have students use that feedback as a reflective process in their learning. In this post, I’m going to discuss what I have learned as a student, and how that can help me become a better teacher.

One thing this course has taught me as a student is for me to put my best foot forward, I need to know the professor is watching. I know this sounds stupid. I would consider myself a good student. I complete the assigned assignments, whether or not I feel they have any value to me, and put forth effort. After this course, where just completing the assignment is not good enough, and we are actual held to a rubric, I’ve discovered I don’t always do my best.

I think that knowing that I was being evaluated to the expectations that the professor had and not just for completing the assignment forced me to truly put my best foot forward. Do I think it was worth it? Absolutely!

Since starting my masters program a year ago, I can’t say I’ve learned that much. I have been introduced to a couple new webpages and resources I can use. I’ve watched videos with other classes and have used some ideas, but I don’t think it has transformed the way I teach.

In this course I have realized how important it is to motivate students to learn. That could be having the students understand how they are being evaluated, having the students be a part of the evaluation and education process, making sure my classes are truly student centered and not just having the students do work for the sake of doing it, or giving the students choices on what they should be doing.

As a teacher, I think it is important to remember how we learn, and make sure that is included in our lesson plans. I think teachers get caught up in the curriculum we have to teacher and the standards we have to meet, to ensure students are successful on the test. The easiest way to give the students the information is just to tell them, but they aren’t truly learning it if that’s all we’re doing. We have to step back and make sure that we’re giving students opportunities to learn the material, and not just recite the material.

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The Key Is Feedback

I look back at this summer and think about what I have learned, and what it means to actually learn something. One of the main things I have learned from this course is the importance of feedback. I think I knew as a teacher it is important to give students constructive feedback, but one thing this course really taught me is not only the ability to give the feedback but have your students embrace it.

One thing in this class that I really enjoyed was the expectation we were held to. I learned after high school, what made a good instructor was someone who had high expectations, but this summer it was brought back to reality. I feel most of my masters program has been completing the activities and readings. I would learn and apply little bits of information to my world, but the reality of it the majority of the information I didn’t find valuable. No one forced me to reflect on what I was doing and live up to that expectation.

All the feedback we have received in this course has been positive, but has helped me grow as a teacher and learned. I want to carry that on to my own students. I find many times when I give my students feedback they just look at the letter grade and move on. I have decided that students who learn when they’re younger to embrace feedback, they will be more successful in their education and their life.

Not only is good feedback important, but also timely feedback. I think about my grading in the past. I really have based my grading on how much time I have. I always knew it was important to keep students in the loop on how they are doing, but I don’t think it’s helpful to give students work back on a topic we covered a couple weeks ago. I think as instructors, we need to make an effort to correct students in a positive way that help them grow and become better learners.

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Finishing My Course

This week has been all about completing my course. As I have gone through my course check list and thought I was done completing my course I realized I have a lot left to do!!! One of the things that came up in the course check list is the instructions page for each activity. I realized that for most activities I just had the assignment there and assumed my students would be able to figure out. As I think about my experience teaching in a face to face classroom and as a student in an online classroom I realized students need a lot of direction. I think about how many times I redirect students in a face to face classroom. When I look at my course, as a entry level high school course, this may be the first time students have taken an online course, they may not know what a discussion thread is and how to participate in that thread. I think about how many times students need instructions in a face to face classroom, and by the time they see me they’ve been in that setting for almost 10 years.

So, when I realized I didn’t have instruction pages I went crazy, and made an instruction page for every document. Although I believe that it’s helpful, sometimes I feel that it is overkill. I think that I need to go back through my course and decide things like “Is this necessary?” and “Am I doing this for a good reason?” As I go through I will be able to do two things, first I will clear up any “clutter” I may have and second I will be able to make sure if I’m going through as a student I understand exactly what I should be doing.

I feel that I’m in a pretty good position with my online course. I feel that I have the content and structure down, all I need to do is refine it and make it so that students have the easiest time going through it as possible.

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Reinforcing the Classroom Community

This week we talked about a lot about the classroom community. The main discussion for this week was teacher presence and how that is important in an online class.

One of the things I pondered this week was the question “how do we create a seating chart for an online course?” I thought about why I create a seating chart for a face to face course. There are many reasons we create seating charts in face to face classes, we want to manage classroom behavior, we want to make sure students are working and learning the material together, we want to students to learn how to collaborate with other students, and probably many more reasons. As I reflected on this idea, and thought about online courses, why is this any different.

We won’t have the same classroom management issues in an online course that we have in face to face courses, however, we still want students to be successful. My immediate thought of how to recreate a seating chart in a face to face classroom was grouping students. As this discussion continued, it was brought up that we can’t recreate everything we do in a face to face classroom, and I know this is true, how ever we can do different things to get the same desired outcome.

Another discussion for the week was rapport with students. I think many teachers pride themselves on having a good rapport with their students, and I think it’s important to remember that this skill should also be used in an online environment. We talk about students feel isolated in an  online environment, which is why we are sure to create a class community in our online courses. Building a rapport with students in an online classroom helps build that community and trust we see in a face to face classroom.

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Netiquette and Creating Activities

This week we focused on teaching presence in an online classroom and we received feedback on the learning activities we established last week. I’m going to discuss both of these topics this week!

First, when listening to the feedback to my course activities, I keep rethinking the way my class is laid out. Part of me feels like I’m changing my mind all the time, which is making this confusing and complicated. I think I have to think of it more as refining my ideas than actually changing my mind. My original idea in my course was to have a homework help section that students would be required to post in. I figured, and based on my discussion last week, if students don’t have incentive to post, they may not. I didn’t want only one or two people using this feature and the rest of the class ignoring it. I came to this conclusion because of my own experience in taking online courses. I feel I tend to focus on what is required of me, and forget about the other discussion boards. I most definitely use them when I need to, but I’m not very good at checking them to see if I could offer any help or insight. After listening to my feedback, I think instead of a required homework help, I’ll have a discussion forum in which we talk about the topics at hand and how they are related to our real world. I will still create a homework help discussion board in the class community, but not as a required post.

The second thing I wanted to discuss is my conversation about netiquette. This module is focused on how to create a teaching presence in the classroom (not always by the teacher) and how to use that to create class community. I think netiquette is a very important role in creating class community, it sets a tone and can help allow students to feel safe in the classroom. One of the things I didn’t think about is how to present netiquette and how that can change depending on the age group you are dealing with. I have decided to have a whole lesson on netiquette, especially since I’m teaching middle school students.

I think it is very clear that you need to establish a presence in the classroom, and students need to know you are available to them. I think one thing I’ve really taken away in my presence in an online course is to keep it personal. I think I’m used to talking in the “students will” voice and need to change to the “you will”. Since I was made aware of this difference I began thinking about how I talk to students in my face to face classroom, and I always use personal references, which can be easily lost in an online environment.

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Changing from a Face to Face Classroom

Building my online course has been difficult for me to conceptualize. I am used to teaching in a face to face classroom, and one of the biggest things I have learned is online teaching is very different! I am currently teaching an Algebra course in a face to face classroom, I thought it would be easy to transform it into an online environment. I would just take my lessons, create power points and videos of what I usually teach in my class, assign the same assignments and I would be done! Boy was I wrong!!! As I began thinking about my modules, I did follow the same sequence that I give in a face to face classroom, but besides that I think everything is different. One of my biggest challenges is having the students learn everything they need to learn independently with me as only their guide. I think I try to be the student’s guide in the traditional classroom, but revert back to telling them the answer or the method. I think it’s easy to do that when you see the person struggling. In an online learning environment there is built in wait time, and students need to struggle and figure things out on there own.

One of the biggest changes is how student centered the online course is. I actually tried one of the activities with my in class students and it worked great! I would be excited and eager to see how it will work online! One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that students have the ability to figure things out given the right tools and they will truly learn more given those tools and that opportunity. A big struggle for me while teaching an online course is give the discussion time but be involved. I notice that in a face to face classroom when I’m working with a group of students they can play off each other, and when I’m talking to them I can figure out where they are at based on facial expressions and how they are contributing to the conversion. In a asynchronous environment where students aren’t in the conversation at the same time, it might take a little longer, time wise, to figure things out. I feel as an online teacher you have to be conscious of the fact that students may not read that post for a day to respond, but still be present as a guide. I feel that skill would take practice to master!

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Using the Peers

This week we talked a lot about how we change the way we teach in an online environment. Since an online environment has to be student centered, we need to alter our way of teaching. Two things really popped out at me this week. The first was in regards to peer evaluation and the second (which is on the same lines) is regards to peer assistance.

I think we can all agree that there is benefits to having students evaluate each other. It allows the students to take a whole different look at the assignments when they actually have to decide on criteria to evaluate the assignment. It also forces students to reflect on their own thinking, which we all know is an important part of learning. Although there are many benefits, there are some drawbacks. One, which I think we would all assume, is students grades aren’t always very reliable. Students are under peer pressure, or uncomfortable giving constructive feedback to their peers. I think this is true in my own life as well. I think about online classes I’ve taken and I have a hard time when I need to “grade” someone down on a peer evaluation, although I have no problem doing it to other students. I think the biggest thing to take away from having students do peer evaluations is that we need to train them how to constructive and critical while not feeling like they are hurting someone’s feelings. I feel like this may be able to be achieve by allowing students to edit/revise assignments after they have been evaluated.

The other thing that I was to try in my online class is peer assistance. Pelz discusses this in his article. He requires that students either offer or give assistance in every module as a part of their grade. I like this idea because I’m afraid students won’t be open to asking or helping other students, because it’s just one more thing that you have to do. I feel that students will also use this feature more if you have a strong class community, which I think means having good ice breakers and creating that safe environment. I may have to reassess how I use this in my class!

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Making Sure the Teacher is Involved

These two weeks have been very interesting and engaging. In the last blog post I discussed the importance of community in the classroom. As we know from our face to face classrooms, we know it’s important for students to feel connected. Students need to be connected in order to be a part of a learning community and to learn the material successfully.

There are many ways to create community in the classroom, but it seems like through the exemplar courses and my personal experience when the professor/teacher is involved in the course the sense of community and expectations are built in.

Another part of my week was revising my course design. There were two main things that popped out at me this week. 1. Make things interesting for the students and 2. Have the students have a say in what they do! When I originally wrote my objectives and descriptions for each of the modules and the course as a whole I used my “not selling it to the students” tone. When I revised it I truly needed to sell it and make it interesting for the students. Not only to keep them engaged but keep them working on higher cognitive levels. I also decided instead of a quiz I would have the students complete some application project of their choice at the end of the unit. This way students would be more at in create and evaluate levels of blooms, instead of the bottom tiers.

One of the biggest challenges I faced this week is how to assess students in an online course. I struggled with writing my expectations and grading policy. I figured out the overall grades off the bat, but it was challenging for me to think of and come up with a rubric that worked for grading the individual activities. I will probably revise these as I go along and actually see what the activities have become. One of the big decisions I made was instead of doing module quizzes to assess what they learned  I’m going to have them create a “project” to show what they learned, or apply what they learned to a real world situation of their choice.

I’m still struggling with how I’m preparing students online for a standardized test (Algebra Regents) in an online environment. I think that giving them practice problems or resources so they can take sample tests can be effective; however I think taking practice regents is another strategy to review for the test. I’ll still have to work on that.

Overall, setting clear expectations and being involved in the classroom seems to be a common theme when teaching an online course. Students need to feel that their work is valued and there is immediate feedback. It also seems important to repeat yourself often, and have many different ways of getting to the links they will need to complete the assignments. REMEMBER: DON’T ASSUME ANYTHING

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Building a Class Community

It seems like this week we began to dive into what we are supposed to do in an online classroom and how to avoid errors that make for unsuccessful environments. I think one of the biggest things that have come from this week’s discussions and readings is building a community is important. One of the discussions this week has been how to promote collaboration in our online classrooms. I think that most teachers “fear” collaboration in a sense because you are going to have that free loading student who is learning, or how do you hold everyone accountable for an assignment they worked together on. I find, and maybe it’s because of my math bias, that there is that fear one student will do the work and others will just follow. It seems to me, the way you avoid that is just like you do in a face to face classroom, build a positive class community. It takes planning; activities should be planned out ahead a time (hopefully for the entire course and not just the next unit). You need to be involved in the classroom. Students need to “feel” your presence, and that you are holding them accountable for their contribution to the class.

When thinking about creating my online class, I think about how these things apply to my online math class. I had already planned to have students work in small groups. I found an article about students working in groups. It’s a reflection piece done by students about what works and what doesn’t work in online group work. The article suggests different strategies to use to create positive online communities. One of the strategies I would like to use is having the students “create a team charter”. I think that when you have students invested and creating their own expectations of themselves in a group that they are more likely to hold to those expectations. I would assume that there would be perimeters set by the teacher (minimum number of posts, number of times participating in the class, etc.).

Overall, I feel like to create successful class communities, students need to feel the presence of the instructor. It seems like with consistent and often feedback students get a sense they are a part of a class and will be encouraged to participate actively in the class.

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Motivating Students in an Online Class

This week I really started thinking about my online course and how I was going to set it up. A lot of discussion this week was around motivation and how we motivate students to work. I often think to myself that students that are “lazy” or don’t want to learn are not going to do well in an online course because they don’t seem to have much self drive. I think that if courses are set up to peak the interest of students and are demanding, students will rise to the occasion.

We’ll leave the light on for you, keeping learners motivated in an online course seems to clearly lay out how we need to keep learners motivated even when teaching an online course. Keeping students motivated online is very similar to keeping students motivated in a classroom. I think generally speaking we know that instructions who are considered effective challenge their students, hold high expectations, and passionate about their content. This holds true in online teaching as well, but you have to go about it differently than you do in a face to face classroom. The article talks about different ice breakers you can use and other activities to develop the sense of community that we all naturally form in a face to face environment.

The other things I’ve looked into is teaching math online. I’m trying to conceptualize what an online math course looks like. I’ve done a little research and most articles say to make short to the point videos to get the information across. One suggestion I got was to have guided notes to go along with the videos. I thought that was a great idea and am going to use that. I’ll keep looking at other strategies and see if I can find more ideas.

My progress on my course is going well. I’ve developed the type of activities I want students to participate in, so I now have an outline. I’m going to use 101 Questions and other online challenges to get my problems. I have to figure out a way that students won’t be able to look up the answers online, or how I’m certain they aren’t using someone else’s ideas.

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