Monday, December 1, 2008

FIT Team Project

I just wanted to note that my FIT team members are fabulous!  Everyone has done a great job of updating each other on what we are working on.  We decided to split up the project amongst us so that it would be easier to manage.  Lisa decided to take on the brief overview of the current learning environment.  Pasha and Amy are working on suggestions for improvements and justifications for such improvements.  I'm tackling modifying 2 activities that are currently in place.  Each of us will create at least one new activity.  I believe everyone is happy with the sections they are working on and so far, the communication between all of us is running smoothly.  I kind of wish there was some sort of conflict so I could have more to discuss in this blog ; )  But since there isn't, I will discuss why I think this group is working so well together. Of course, keep in mind that this is only from my perspective - I don't want to put words in my members' mouths.
1) Each of us seems to be highly motivated to finish this project.  I believe this is because we have been working with IVHS the whole semester.  We've been immersed in the course and each of us have most likely been making notes here and there on what the course could add or modify to make the course even better. I know that I've been itching to get these things down on paper!
2) Of course all of us have been taking the fabulous class of IT7130 where Dr. Zhang has clearly laid out problems that can occur with online learning. Because of this, I think the team has purposely analyzed IVHS in such a way that we are specifically looking for these problems to occur.  This has helped us pinpoint specific areas the course could improve on to try to prevent these problems from occurring. 
3) Again, because of what we've learned in IT7130 I think our team understands the importance of communication. Thus, each of us have e-mailed each other in a timely manner and each of us have made sure the messages in our e-mails are clear and understandable.  This has helped us work on the project efficiently and effectively!

I would like to conclude by stating how this project has been a great learning experience.  The concepts/theories discussed in IT7130 would have been more difficult to grasp if we hadn't been able to observe an actual online course.  Observing the IVHS course allowed me to apply these concepts/theories and helped me understand the process of online learning in general.    

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Confessions of a FIT...

Before I really get to the heart of this blog, I feel I must say that I really have enjoyed my FIT experience.  That being said, I have had my snags along the way.  What I would like to focus on in this blog, are 1) the uncomfortableness I felt writing comments on students responses to the activity I was facilitating and 2) time (yes, I know I've talked about this before, but...).  

As mentioned in an earlier blog, I had to facilitate an activity for Week 11.  After the students uploaded their responses to the activity (which, by the way, was about imperialism), I had to provide them with feedback.  While this was great experience for me, I felt quite uncomfortable about doing this because I don't have a degree in history.  I love history, don't get me wrong, but I don't feel qualified to teach it.  However, I was able to critique their critical thinking skills, which may have been the only thing my FIT director's wanted me to do anyway.  Yet I still felt very strange and apprehensive about giving feedback to students who are not my students.  I guess more than anything I worry that my FIT directors won't like the feedback I gave, will feel like I overstepped my boundaries, or will think "what the heck is she talking about?".  I'm also dealing with younger students than what I'm used to.  I teach college-level communication courses; I've never taught high school students.  At one point I felt as if I was being too harsh with the comments, so I went through all of them again before sending them out and added more comments that praised the student for their efforts.  Hopefully, the directors find them to be appropriate.

2) Time, time,'s sooo different when you're facilitating an activity online.  I made the mistake of waiting until all the students responses were submitted.  This seems very silly when I think about it now, but I thought this was appropriate because I was thinking of face to face courses.  If someone turns in an assignment early, I don't look at it until I get everyone else's assignment.  I do this so that I can grade them all in one sitting (or perhaps two) and recognize areas that students did not do so well - that way I can consider being lenient and not counting off so many points if it seems that all or most of students struggled with a particular aspect.  But for the most part, you don't have a lot of students turning assignments in early during face to face courses - however, since students taking an online course encouraged to work at their own pace, they are often working ahead and turning things in early.  Anyway, one of my directors gave me some good advice and said that I should really try to respond to them 24 - 28 hours after they send in assignments in order to keep the students motivated.  I had a problem too because it's just so easy to say, 'I'll e-mail them tomorrow' - and then tomorrow turns into 3 days later.  It's easy to do this because they are not in front of you so it's easy to escape from the responsibility of communicating with them.  Right now, I feel like they are 'invisible' - like they aren't really 'real'.  Surely other online facilitators have felt this way at times...

Defining 'Public' and Reconsidering Online Public Speaking Courses

Last week I attended the National Communication Association Convention in San Diego, California. Not only was the weather glorious, but I got to attend a short course titled "Virtual Asynchronous and Synchronous Training Program for Communicating Effectively in Higher Education".  Specifically, the course focused on using asynchronous and synchronous technologies in college-level communication courses.  The instructors of the course did a great job discussing  challenges they faced when trying to have a communication course online.  They mentioned several things, but what I would like to mention here are some of the things I thought about during the session in regards to how to put a public speaking class online. 
1) It seems many public speaking instructors think that it's impossible to have a public speaking course online.  Often times I hear, "it wouldn't be in front of people - it wouldn't be public speaking". So it got me thinking - how are we defining public? The phrase 'in public' is defined (by my computers dictionary) as 'in view of other people; when others are present'.  If we consider this definition, then we may first think, 'yes, they are right - they wouldn't be speaking in public'.  BUT, if we think about how our technology has changed how we communicate with people in general - perhaps we need to reconsider what we mean by being 'in view' of other people and being 'present' among others.  Are we not in the presence of others when we are talking with others online - especially when using synchronous communication tools? Are we not sharing a space as we would if we were face to face?
2) If we move past this argument that it wouldn't be public speaking, could we not open up more doors for creativity.  For instance, if a student decided to do a persuasive speech on recycling, the student could videotape themselves giving a speech with a polluted creek behind them, which could make the speech even more persuasive because the creek could act as a visual aid.  
3) If students present a speech online (either live or recorded and presenting it on Wimba or Elluminate), other students could re-visit the speeches of their peers or their own and critique the speeches more so than they are able to when they see it once when presented face to face.  Furthermore, since students can type messages about the speech during the presentation.  This would allow students to type in how a certain sentence, word or main point effected them at the time it was delivered.  This could then be viewed by the speaker later and allow them to reflect even more so on how the content/delivery of their speech could be improved.  Some people against the idea of online public speaking courses are worried about how the speaker will not have the audience's feedback.  However, this is not lost, it's just different - and there may actually be advantages to this online feedback they are receiving.  
4) While this could be said about any online course, I think that something needs to be said about the sense of accomplishment that students feel once they master a new kind of technology.  Some instructors worry about the students ability to use the technology necessary for an online course, but once this is mastered (which in my experience, didn't take long) does this not motivate them to want to learn more in the course in general.  If the students are feeling good about mastering the technology, I would think this has to have positive effects on their learning as a whole...perhaps researchers have discussed this already.

So there are my thoughts - hopefully it got you thinking (or perhaps re-thinking) any previous ideas you may have had about these issues.  

Monday, November 17, 2008

Leading Blindly

A couple of weeks ago one of my FIT directors sent an e-mail asking me and my fellow FIT's how we would like to contribute more to the online class we are observing.  He gave us a lot of suggestions on different things we could do and that was great.  I chose to lead an activity that was coming up in a few weeks.  A week before the activity was do, I followed my director's recommendations and sent an e-mail to the early start section (there is an early start and a late start section which are about a week apart).  That was a little over a week ago and I have only seen one student post their answers to the activity.  I've been checking every other day, hoping to see more posted.  I feel like I'm at one of those moments that our 7130 class has been talking about throughout the semester.  That moment as a facilitator where you're not sure if you should act (maybe send out an e-mail to the students and remind them of the activity) or if you should calmly wait for more to respond.  
Well, I just did the next best thing - I e-mailed my FIT directors and asked them what I should do.  If this were my own class, I wouldn't mind making an executive decision here, but it's not.  I would hate for the students to get behind or something because of me.  I'm starting to wonder if maybe the activity isn't due until the end of this week - not the end of last week.  The schedule is very confusing to me - I'm used to having set days when things are due.  When I asked one of my FIT directors when  the week 11 activity was due (the activity I'm working on), he told me to watch and see when the kids start posting things on the discussion board for week 10 - when they start posting there, that means they are getting ready for week 11.  I saw students posting on week 10 before I sent out the e-mail about the week 11 activity, but what if the students posting on week 10 were just working ahead? 
Anyway, I'm just feeling like I'm leading a bit blindly here.  Without the students in front of me, I can't rely on the nonverbal and verbal feedback that I'm used to.  Perhaps they are confused by the assignment? Maybe they didn't even get the e-mail?  I suppose I'll just wait for my FIT directors to get back to me.....

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mid-semester Reflection

As I near the middle of the semester, I feel it's important to look back on what I've learned so far in my Face-to-face and Online Learning course.  In this post I'm going to first discuss how this course has inspired me as a teacher and second, I'll discuss some things that I've noticed about my  use of e-mail.
Online Learning as Inspiration
I will admit I was quite intimidated by this whole 'online learning' idea when this semester began. I've never been one to use a lot of technology, especially in the classroom (except for the occasional PowerPoint or video).  However, I've found that some educational software such as Wimba and Elluminate are pretty user-friendly and fun to use as well.  Most importantly, using this software has inspired me as a teacher.  I've already been trying to think of ways to use not only Wimba, but some of the other tools on Blackboard in the classroom.  I may never teach a course that is entirely online, but I think it will benefit me and my students if I start using these tools more.  Today's students are a lot different than students 10 years ago.  Teachers who have been teaching for quite awhile have a hard time understanding this fact.  They also have a hard time changing their methods of instruction because they are comfortable with traditional methods.  As instructors, we need to be open to new ideas and ways of teaching.   Since we are dealing with students that have grown up in a technology focused era, we should start using more technology in the classroom.  
 "Of course I know how to effectively use e-mail...err...maybe not so much..."
So, I will admit that I may e-mail a bit too often.  I can't help it, "My name is Katie Rasmussen and I'm addicted to e-mailing". I e-mail the students on my speech team at least once every other day (they include updates, reminder, etc.). Some people may not think that this is too much, but I also have to admit that my e-mails can be pretty long.  Since they are so long, I don't think my students read them, which is a problem since they contain really important information. Perhaps I need to make these e-mails less overwhelming and make them shorter. 
Also, I've come to the realization that I may need to work on my e-mail etiquette.  I don't think I'm horrible, but I noticed when I was working with Julie on our assignments how great she was with adding such an excited AND genuine tone to her messages (thanks, Julie!).  I'm always afraid of coming across as corny or fake - this is something I will be working on...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Elluminate Observations (for those wanting to read about my Wimba experience, it is posted below this one)

I've been quite busy this evening! I had my first online class using Wimba and then an hour later I had my first experience using Elluminate.  IVHS met on Elluminate for class this evening (the group I am F.I.T.-ing for).  Here are a few things I thought about/noticed during this session. 
1. Having a moderator AND a facilitator during a session seems to be very effective.   While the facilitator is speaking/lecturing the moderator can answer any questions the students are asking in the chat box.  This seems to save a lot of time.
2. Along with the above comment, when students ask a question in the chat box, another student can simply answer it instead of the facilitator having to stop and answer the question.  Again, this saves a lot of time. I'm sure it also makes the student feel good about themselves when they feel like they have helped out or contributed to the class in some way. 
3. It was interesting to see the students work on a problem together.  It took them awhile to start contributing/get organized, but in the end they came up with something together. It was just interesting observing the process of a group working together online.  
4. Jim (the facilitator) did a great job of getting the students back on track when they were starting to chat about random things in the chat box.  He simply told them that they needed to focus on the question at hand. This is something I didn't witness earlier this evening in my Wimba class (probably because the Wimba session was full of mature adults).
5.  I really liked how Jim asked the class to state one thing that they learned at the end of the class.  This is something I will definitely ask my students in the future.  
6. Finally, something else I noticed was when I said something to the class (at the end when class was over and everyone was just sticking around bantering back and forth) I noticed that the conversation kind of stopped for a bit.  It was as if the students were like "Who is this and why is she talking?"  However, I could be totally wrong about what their silence really meant. 

Overall, it was all very interesting.  

My First Online Class Session!

 I had a lot of fun this evening using Wimba for the first time. The session our IT 7130 class had with Dr. Keller (who did a fabulous job) was my first ever online class session.  I just wanted to take the time and note some things that struck me as interesting.  
1. I was really weary of typing anything in the chat box while Dr. Kellar was speaking.  I'm guessing that this is appropriate since others were doing this.  I guess I was apprehensive because I thought of it as interrupting the teacher or talking over the teacher while in a face-to-face setting.
2. I was worried about when people could see me on the video.  I figured out though, that unless you are set as the default speaker, you will not be seen by others. However, I'm still wondering if the instructor has the power to see you whenever they want. 
3. Since this was my first time in a real-time online class session, it took me awhile to get comfortable with it all.  For the first 10 minutes it was very hard to get into 'learning mode' since I'm in my living room.  This was unexpected.  I didn't think that was going to be as much of an issue as it was.  I'm sure that this will get easier the more I use Wimba or any other kind of synchronous learning.
4. Trying to type out my questions got me a little anxious.  I knew that I could hit the 'talk' button instead and just say the question, but I was really nervous about doing that with this being my first time.  I typed one question for Dr. Keller in the chat box, but after I wrote it I found that I didn't really care for the question.  I think I should have phrased it as a rhetorical question instead.  
5. Adding on to number 4, when Dr. Keller asked a question it made me think about Dr. Barbour and how he stressed the importance of giving enough time for students to respond.  It took me awhile to come up with even my poorly phrased question.  

In general, using Wimba was a lot of fun.  I'm wondering if the Communication Department would allow me to set up a class for our Speech Team on Blackboard so that we can use Wimba to our advantage.  We have students who live 20 - 30 minutes away and I think it would be great to use this for mini-coaching sessions.  For instance, when I'm trying to walk them through the speech writing process.  

So, I think my first online class was a success! Anyone else want to share any thoughts about how the session went?