Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Wikis and Podcasts

Since my last post, I've been working on wikis and podcasts.

Wikis: I used Writeboard to create outlines of essays for students to collaborate on in order to help them compose their rough drafts. Also, on Writeboard, I created several brainstorm sessions to help students collaborate possible essay topics. I created a link to each Writeboard within the weekly schedule, which I thought would be the easiest way to to have students link to the wiki. Recently, though, Terence and I found a better wiki--PBWiki. This one allows all of the wikis created for the same class to be available on one page/one location. In other words, PBWiki has a front page that lets a teacher explain the class and the use of wikis and lets the instructor link the wikis being used to that front page. So I could have a page devoted to brainstorms and another one for outlines. How cool, right?! So I'll copy and paste the Writeboard wikis into the PBwiki and call it a day. The problem is finding the time to create pages and copy and paste text into the new wiki while I'm working on the podcasts. I have wikis in place in the schedule, so I think I might leave them in place and use Writeboard this first time of teaching online. And then for future classes I will revise and use the PBWiki. I would just rather focus my attention on the podcast lectures and class blog for now.

The podcast lectures are really coming along. At first I was going to wing the lectures with my unscripted notes and just talk freely like I do when I lecture f2f. But then I realized, I rely on student's immediate questions to guide my lectures as well as our conversation about the topic, but that spontaneous, live action couldn't really happen online unless we are all on a live chat together. (I really want my class to be asynchronous, so students can be at class when it's best for their schedules.) So I've spent today writing the script to a third of my lectures--I have 30 total.

Script writing is exhausting. And it takes so much more time than recording the script. I might spend 40 minutes on script that lasts about 2 minutes. This process is really time consuming. In fact, I don't have to work an 8-5 day, but I did. I took a half hour lunch break. Please know that I am not complaining, but the lecture podcast script writing and then recording has made me see how much more work is entailed in the creation of an online class. Lectures for f2f classes take me about 20 minutes tops. I jot down a list of things I want to mention, probing questions so that the lecture is more of a collaborative conversation, and then maybe some pages from our texts that relate to what we're talking about. Having to write out everything I want to say and figure out how to say as briefly as possible so the MP3 file isn't too big for the blog is very time consuming. Also, I've been linking every lecture to our MLA Handbook b/c I didn't use it in the online class readings, and that has taken me quite awhile to find the pages, summary boxes, and exercises I think would benefit the students the most.

Tomorrow I will record the lectures for the second essay cycle. This one has to do with evaluating sources, MLA citations and the works cited page. I think, perhaps, that is why script writing today was so slow. It's much easier to explain MLA in person! As I was writing my scripts I would come to a new lecture and realize I needed to add something to the lecture I just wrote, so the students see the interconnectedness of MLA and how lessons build from one another. Also, the first two essays had more lectures because these are the essays that I'm using to teach them the basics of argumentation and MLA. The last three essays have a significantly less amount of lectures because by then the students know the basics and just need pointers on dealing with the specific essay at hand.

Once I get my podcasts recorded, create the Library Assignment, and flesh out peer review, maybe then I'll consider setting up a PBWiki.

Thank goodness, I started this project early and still have plenty of time. I think IDEAL is right when they say it takes about 15 weeks to create an online class that is as engaging (if not more so) than a f2f class.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Be Detail Oriented: A Key to Filling in the Void

Since my last post I have been working on setting up the online class in a Blackboard development shell. As I was filling in the work schedule for each essay cycle, I realized two things: 1.) the details matter, and 2.) break the work into small chunks if you get overwhelmed.

Before I even began attempting to make any folders or activities in Blackboard, I created a MWF workload schedule based on my previous lesson plans and essay cycles in my f2f classes. Also, I looked at my old syllabi to gauge how much time to devote to each essay cycle. Then I made a list of the readings I wanted to use and broke those readings down into each essay cycle. Having these hard copies really helped me visualize how to fill in each essay cycle on Blackboard, and they also served as my guide or checklist for what activities to create.

Before I began actually working in Blackboard, I gathered all these schedules, my lesson plan binder, activities binder, and texts in addition to lots of scrap paper to jot notes down as I was working. Probably the most important of all of these materials was the scrap paper. By the end I had about 5 sheets of scrap paper filled up: one for reminders to do as I was working, one for things to revise as I realized the older folders I created in Blackboard needed the things I was creating in the newer folders, one for a to-do list for my lecture podcasts I need to record, one for a to-do list of revisions I want to make to assignments, one for questions I had for my IDEAL consultant, one for tallying numbers of Discussion Questions and Brainstorm sessions on the Discussion Board, and one for teaching ideas (for online and f2f) I had while working. OK, that's more than five...I told you scrap paper is important AND the details matter!

Honestly, I think the details are important to the class I am creating because I want to do different things: wiki, blog, podcast, etc. to engage my students at various levels. The more stuff you do, the more details there are. I am a very detailed oriented person, so being detail sensitive was not overwhelming to me at all. I could see it being overwhelming to those who are not detail-oriented. In that case, I would recommend not doing as much with newer technologies and just keeping it very simple--use the "Add Items" feature for lectures and the Discussion Board for brainstorms. Wikis, blogs, videos to introduce each essay cycle, and podcast lectures aren't necessary. I just feel, for me, they better represent how I think about writing and how I teach writing--metatext, different methods for all learners, and engaging for my students and me. The wikis truly let students collaborate, which is really important to my teaching philosophy. I want my students to learn how to work with each other and apply wht they have learned to figure out how to approach writing an essay. The blogging, I feel, helps students reflect and think critically about the material being taught and its application in the "real world." And the videos and podcasts are just my attempt to get the material to a generation that is video and iPod savvy. These things also are very interesting to me, so they keep me in engaged in my teaching.

Once I got started creating the essay cycle folders, within each essay cycle, I created a folder for each week within that cycle. For example, the first essay cycle folder reads "Essay 1: Arguing A Position (Weeks 1-4)". Within that folder, there are four folders: one for Week 1, one for Week 2, and so on. Then within each of those folders is the week's course work in the order I'd like to see students complete it. Any time I had more than one item, such as more than one lecture or reading, I created a folder so the course work looked more streamlined and not as overwhelming to the students. At first, I thought each week's course work looked more intense than my f2f classes. However, I quickly realized that the work load was the exact same; it just looked like more because a.) it was a whole week, not a day and b.) some of work is what I give my f2f students as homework and all online work is basically homework.

The basic order of work each week is: lecture, reading, lecture/reading quiz, discussion board, brainstorm wiki, and a prompt for the blog I'm requiring each student to author. Then when assignments (rough drafts, final drafts, etc.) are due, those tasks are added into the core rotation. I really wanted consistency, so the students would grow accustomed to a routine and find themselves not overwhelmed but prepared for the work. The weeks that were the most difficult to plan were the weeks where there was a day off, fall break, and Thanksgiving break. I wanted to make the work load a little lighter on these weeks to reflect the days off.

If I had to anticipate a question from those considering to build an online class, it would be how long did it take you to set up the course? To answer this, I would have to say (right now, without any revision and more details to add) about 30 hours total--5 hours planning with lists and 25 actually loading activities into Blackboard. What took the most time was building the first two essay cycles and making sure I recorded what I still needed to add later and double-checking that everything was in the right folder. After that, my work became much easier. (The first two weeks took me about 10 hours, which I chunked up. Then we had two rainy days here, so I worked 10 hours each day and five on one day to finish up.)

IMPORTANT: Blackboard has a "Copy" feature in its "Edit View." I strongly suggest opening several windows in Blackboard and copying folders. Then all you have to do is revise the essay title and page numbers of a reading or change the essay title of the rough draft that's due. Once I figured out that I could copy and change folders and items it took me about an hour per week. (Note: I was worried that copying and changing folder contents would change the original. That is NOT the case!)

Also, I strongly suggest breaking down the work into one week at a time or one essay cycle at a time. This way you are more likely to not get burnt out and to catch typos and mistakes (placing the wrong material in the wrong folder, etc.) Of course, I offer up that advice after I marathoned my work. Once I start a project, I become obsessed until it is complete. For my own sanity, I really wanted to create the class and then go back and gradually add podcasts I record and/or revise typos and such. (I'm a true believer in the revision process!) I understand I have all summer to do this work, but I have several weekend trips planned, a lengthy trip planned as well as part-time tutoring I start in June. I enjoy multi-tasking, but I really wanted to devote all my energy to the online class so it turned out the exact way I wanted it to. And it has. For me, I feel more comfortable having all the work planned and loaded and gradually going back and making changes than perfecting each week one at a time. It all depends what works best for you; for me it worked best to do more work initially and revise gradually.

The big pieces that are left for me at this point are recording my intro to the essay videos (there will be five short shorts no longer than 5 minutes) and welcome video, recording my podcast lectures (these will be no more than 5 minutes long each and there's about 25), revising two essay assignments (I'm using the same assignments for my f2f class, so working on the online class has really helped me improve my f2f classes too!), adding in activities that relate to the handbook (I'm thinking about adding these to my class blog where the lectures will be posted as well as announcements), and proofreading.

SIDENOTE: The blog for the class where announcements, lectures, and other helpful hints will use RSS technology, so students can subscribe to the blog to receive any updates that have been added. I plan on adding to this blog a link to the class blog and podcast lectures and I plan to upload my videos once I have completed these features.

Doing all this work to my online class really motivated me to improve the Blackboard shells for my f2f classes as well. That won't take as long, though, because all I really want to do for those is create essay cycle folders and revise the side panel buttons that navigate students to various places in the course shell so there are fewer buttons, which would make the shells look a little cleaner.

Seeing the course put together, for the most part, really makes me excited to teach online! And doing this work online has really helped me critically evaluate my teaching and lesson plans, which has helped me, in turn, make improvements to my f2f class activities. It's been neat for me to reflect on my teaching even more and have more direction fine tuning it. I'm seeing that f2f and online teaching are more alike than different. And f2f teaching and online teaching, for me, fuel each other, which is cool because it has really inspired me even more as a teacher!

I am anxious to see what my online students are like!

I'm just concerned about how the Portfolio will work. More details on that soon.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Most Important? The Syllabus

The previous Thursday evening I had a nice chunk of alone time, which I devoted to beginning the first "real" stage of creation of my online class.

I had already made some revisions to the Achievement Requirements (the part of the syllabus for the GSW program that clearly states the expectations of the course and of students enrolled in the course), so I thought I wouldn't have many revisions to make.

I was wrong.

I spent about 2 and half hours working through the fine details of Achievement Requirements (AR), making sure that those details were detailed in themselves. I should note that my f2f AR is fairly detailed, and I wanted to make my online AR just as much so. First, I added a section that discussed the layout of the the online class and my expectations of students in the online class. Also, I added a discussion board grade rubric, so online students would understand what I expect from discussion board posts. Also, I added a section that introduces myself to students, so they could get to know me. Finally, I created the Master Plan folders, which clearly state each paper cycle with the weeks included.

I had hopes that in two and half hours I could get through the first week of planning and uploading. Really, I only got through day one.

IDEAL wasn't kidding when they said you should plan to create an online course over the course of one semester--15 weeks. It may even take a little bit longer...depending on a lot of things...

I believe creating will be become quicker once I set a schedule and spend more time with it each day. I'm feeling positive!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Starting at the Beginning

The intention of this blog is to document the creation of an online class for BGSU's General Studies Writing Program. I'm using this blog as a reflection on how I set up the course and then how the course works during its pilot session this coming Fall Semester 2006. The online class is being developed on Blackboard, a university sponsored internet program that allows students to check their personal information at the university as well as course information, such as announcements, course documents, etc.

For starters, I sought help from IDEAL, a team who aids faculty in creating successful online classes, at BGSU. My first meeting with IDEAL staff member Terrence Armentano was Wednesday, May 9. During this meeting we collaborated on an effective key for the ENG 111 online course as well as ideas for how to conduct lectures (powerpoints, wikis, or blog with abilities for podcasting), keep track of passing/no passing grades, and collect rough and final drafts.

At this meeting, I chose to lecture through a blog on WordPress that is sponsored by IDEAL. I was attracted to the possibility of being able to post just text or text and a video clip, or post a podcast for students to listen to. Additionally, students will be able to leave comments on the blog, so they will be able to participate during lectures. Finally, having a blog for lectures will show students that blogs can be used for educational purposes, and it will be a nice tie back to the students each creating blogs for reflection on the material being taught.

Also, I decided to keep a grade book, but instead of having points for the work completed, online students will receive "complete" or "incomplete" grades, which translate well with GSW's ENG 111 grading system, which is "pass" or "no pass." I will ask students to email me their rough drafts to my gmail account, and I'm using the Blackboard feature "Assignments" to collect the final essays. The grade book in Blackboard allows me to comment on grades, and in the comment boxes I will post the end comments on final drafts with the grade. (Grades cannot be seen by the whole class, only the individual student who is logged into his/her personal account.) Complete will equal Pass, and Incomplete will equal Almost Pass or No Pass. This code will be explained in the Achievement Requirements, the document that explains the course and my expectations as the course's instructor.

I divided each week into several activities that online students will complete. These activities are very similar to the ones in my face-to-face (f2f) classes. Each week online students will have lectures to review, readings relevant to the material being taught in the lectures, discussion questions to answer on the Discussion Board, blog postings of their reflections regarding the material of the week, and other exercises to help them develop their argumentative writing skills. At the beginning of each week, I am going to write a short note of how the students should proceed. This note also will include any important due dates for the rough drafts, final drafts, or Library Assignment.

Starting tonight I'm going to begin to fill in the skeleton of the class with assignments and readings and discussion questions. My plan is to work on each week one at time. This evening, then, I will be working on Week 1. In future posts I will document how much time it takes me to create one week's worth of course work.

Please feel free to leave any comments with questions or ideas that can help me during this creation process.

My goal is to post regularly to this blog regarding the creation process in order to effectively document the creation and execution of an ENG 111 online class.