Reflective Journal

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During my 8 week online Creating Collaborative Communities course at the University of Wisconsin we were asked to keep a weekly reflective journal.  The purpose of this journal was to explore the learning process, identify goals for my teaching/learning, evaluate my participation in the course, and identify areas that I could actively apply to my work.

Module 8

  • Reflect on your overall learning experience within the course.

Overall, I learned a great deal in the course.  It was very helpful to have a course that focused on the practical day to day of being an online facilitator.  There are many levels of thought that go into being a successful facilitator from designing the pre-course email to potentially revising the instructional design of the course.  In between, is the meat and bones of interacting with students to generate an atmosphere conducive to learning that hopefully generates people excited about the content and actively engaged with each other to further their understanding.

  • Where does your progression into online facilitation (or as an online facilitator) go from here?

I am planning on finishing my online certification from UWstout by completing the internship portion and then applying for teaching and or eLearning positions.

  • Other final thoughts…

I wanted to utilize this final section to summarize some important information that I learned that may not have been emphasized elsewhere in the portfolio:

  •  Program for sending out reminder emails to students, followupthen.com
  • Do it, delegate it, defer it
  • Create a routine for checking email, discussion boards, portfolios
  • Respond within 24 hours to emails
  • 5% of grade dedicated to prompt communication with instructor
  • Create hard copy backups of course materials especially grade book in case of hacking
  • Make sure to emphasize importance of having materials offline in case of emergencies
  • utilize broken link checkers
  • UOP: plagiarism checker
  • When choosing tools: Cost, Accessibility, Integration into CMS, Problem it Solves, Learning Curve
  • Important instructor responds to every personal introduction
  • Want to give detailed formative feedback on first week discussion to help students understand expectations.  Perhaps, have students grade themselves during the first week.
  • Offer the option of audio video posts with specific instructions/limitations.
  • Jigsaw as a way to encourage critical thinking without the anxiety.
  • Use blue and purple to avoid color blindness problems.

File Management:

  • Each Module gets a folder: Module01
  • Subfolders: ContentM01, LearningResourcesM01, GradesM01
  • Maintain Offline and Online files with the same structure and do your editing offline before uploading
  • Student numberxxx_student name_course code_teaching period_date

    Here is a quick summary of some of the time management tools discussed in this thread:

    • to do lists
    • grouping similar tasks
    • delegating
    • prewritten responses
    • prewritten questions
    • deferring items
    • chunking tasks
    • prioritize tasks
    • good habits
    • estimating time on task
    • setting alarms for the end of tasks

    STRESSORS for EXTROVERTS

    • Working alone
    • Having to communicate mainly by email
    • Lengthy work periods with no interruptions
    • Having to reflect before taking action
    • Having to focus in depth on one thing
    • Getting feedback in writing only

    However, some useful tactics are:

    TACTICS for EXTROVERTS

    • Networking with others outside your team
    • Asking them to voice their ideas
    • Paying attention to written notices and emails
    • Allowing others to think about your idea before they provide feedback (count to three-or ten..)

Scenario:

Starts off grouchy and stirring up trouble, i.e. “I shouldn’t have to take this class” or “I hope this class isn’t as bad as the last online course I took” or “Have you seen the syllabus? Did you see all the work we have to do?”

Response:

Sadie, welcome to the course! I am excited to be working with students from a variety of backgrounds and looking forward to the value that your past experiences will bring to the class. Please let me know if you have any questions or if there is anything I can do to facilitate your success in this course.

Dominant Students

Dominant students can be an asset in the classroom and I have previously capitalized on their enthusiasm by assigning an in depth presentation to the student under the guise of helping other students understand a concept more fully. This was a great way to encourage peer to peer interactions. In the online realm, I could yield facilitating to such a student. I could ask the student to prepare a couple of questions, which I would evaluate and help revise and then let the student facilitate a discussion. By letting these students take the lead and have some responsibility they often become less dominant and more encouraging of others. Indeed, this would be a great tool for encouraging inactive students as well.

Inactivity

Inactivity needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Pairing inactive students with more active students in a group assignment could be a great way to encourage further engagement. Additionally, inactive students could be asked to facilitate a discussion or give a presentation. As the facilitator, I could also highlight an inactive student’s post as a way to generate dialogue and community building. Contacting individuals directly by email and or phone may be an inevitable course of action to determine status if inactivity occurs at the beginning of the course or for a prolonged period of time during the course. Inactive groups may be encouraged to meet synchronously with the facilitator to gauge progress, be given deadlines for drafts of assignments, and/or asked to generate an outline on a group wiki or lino.

Misconceptions

Misconceptions can be an outstanding tool in the classroom and previously I have utilized them as a way to move the discussion deeper. It is important to validate the thinking behind the misconception and then to allow students to explore why it is a misconception. At the end of the module I could post a clarifying announcement that would make sure everyone has sufficient understanding of the concept. Based on this article, “Understanding Student Weakness”, it seems like anticipating these misconceptions can be a valuable tool and can help with efficiency, ie. prepare clarifying posts ahead of time.

GOOD FACILITATOR TECHNIQUES

Ask thought-provoking questions to lead to deeper critical thinking. • Summarize the discussion to validate the views of people who responded so far and encourage others to participate in the discussion. • Review the points made to encourage additional points or opposing viewpoints to be posted. • Provide group feedback to a small or large group. • Ensure that no one is being ignored.

Finding the right voice:

Great job completing this week’s assignment! It looks like you have crafted an excellent initial response to the discussion question. However, the assignment needs to be placed in the discussion board forum, Life in the Fast Lane. As noted on the syllabus, I only grade materials placed in this location. This week’s discussion board is open until Sunday so you still have time to participate in this week’s post.

Also, I strongly encourage you to contribute to the discussion postings as early as possible in the week as this is a collaborative class and you will receive more feedback the earlier you post.  I know the discussion format takes some getting used to and I will work harder to make sure that it is clear which assignment goes where. One tool that I always found helpful as a student was the checklist, it gave me a chance to checkoff what I had accomplished and make sure it was going to the right place. Please let me know if you need any help with the technical aspects of the course. You are doing great and I look forward to reading your next posts.

Sincerely,

Dr Maria

FYI: Please note the discussion posting represent XX% of your final grade as noted in the course syllabus (list section, page) and failure to participant will reduce your grade.

Module 7

  • The most important/interesting/challenging thing I learned in Module Seven is…

During Module 7, our small group participated  in a synchronous online chat.  I have been considering utilizing this method of communication during my course as a way to promote dialogue during case study analysis.  The synchronous chat was very useful in promoting community building and generating dynamic dialogue.  However, it had two main drawbacks: scheduling the 6 members of the group was difficult and there were many technical problems that hindered our work.  I would be cautious about using this type of interaction.   I would use a different program like BigBlueButton in the future, which hopefully has some of the kinks in the software worked out.  I also would become very familiar with the software, offering a tip sheet and requiring an assessment to validate student knowledge of the program.  Finally, I would offer definitive ideas for how students could conduct their discussion in an organized and efficient manner.

  • Describe or analyze the experience of both getting and giving peer feedback, and how that informs your methods of facilitation…

The experience of giving and receiving peer feedback has been helpful in practicing the principles of constructive feedback.  I begin each post in response to my peers by thanking them for their effort, giving them a few positive comments about their work or response to my work, and finally offering some potentially helpful comments on the work.  This general outline has been well received and will be helpful as I move forward as a facilitator.

Module 6

Grading:

In terms of grading a number of tips were “Aha!” moments for me, such as:

  • Make notes of important contributions while reading discussion posts.
  • Grade assignments as they arrive and save the graded version with a new filename.
  • Establish file naming protocols so assignment files are in same order as gradebook.
  • Link the dropbox folder to the gradebook and try to download entire folder at one time.

These tips will enhance my grading efficiency, keep me organized, decrease procrastination, and increase my billable hours.

Email:

In terms of email a number of tips were “Aha!” moments for me, such as:

  • Learn how to flag and prioritize emails.
  • Don’t answer email while grading.
  • Handle email at specific times each day.
  • Emails from students should be required to have a signature line with the student’s full name.

Email communication is a cornerstone of the classroom community and it is very important to stay on top of questions, but at the same time the facilitator needs to prevent becoming overwhelmed.  These tips will help create a healthy balance.

  • Other reflective thoughts…

A final tip involves recording notes each week in a teaching journal identifying thoughts about revisions for the next semester.  This seems like an excellent idea to help with the goal of evaluating the effectiveness of your course and making revisions to enhance the underlying design.

Module 5

  • In what ways will the 70/30 rule impact your online facilitation?

I know that the week prior to the start of the course and the first week will be very time intensive weeks and I will allocate a large percentage of my time solely to the course in session.

  • Other triumphs or challenges?

A huge triumph for me this week was to decide to utilize the salutation Dr Maria.  It is a compromise between the more formal Dr. Guillily and the informal use of my first name.  I am hoping that it will communicate to the class the professional nature of the course and my willingness to engage with them on a personal level.

  • Other reflective thoughts…

I enjoyed writing the introductory email and the discussion prompt this week.  I am excited to start teaching and I wish this email was something I was sending out to my students.

I have been finding it difficult to identify the institutions to apply for online teaching positions and to find online Biology/A&P/etc. courses.  Also, it does not seem like many of these positions are posted regularly so I am wondering the best approach for contacting potential employers.  Optimally, I would like to find a position within driving distance so I could meet face to face with my employer at least one time to ensure a good relationship.  I would like to do whatever I can to give my first position as a great a chance as possible to be successful, so I am not discouraged from pursuing the profession by logistical hurdles.

Module 4

The “aha!” moments I have had so far are:

  1. Homogenous groups of TypeA/B personalities were significantly more satisfied with group work than heterogeneous groups.
  2. Discussion forums with multiple threads versus one single thread are easier to assess and may more readily allow students to express fully formed thoughts on subjects.
  3. Discussion forums with single threads may engender more dynamic and free flowing dialogue.
  4.  Different personality types may post predominantly at different times in the week.
  5. Students across time zones may have trouble working in groups synchronously and this should be a factor when designing groups.
  6. UTC or Coordinated Universal Time should be included when listing expectations for work to aid students outside the US.
  7. Including open ended questions at the end of discussion posts may elicit more feedback.
  8. Procedural reminders will be needed throughout the course to emphasize posting etiquette.
  9. The inclusion of social dialogue is imperative to creating the supportive community necessary for constructivism.

These moments have made me more curious about  what other things I may be unaware of when designing my course.  Some of these “aha!” moments were realized through reading materials, but many became apparent only after experiencing them first hand.  I am curious to see what other “aha!” moments I will have once I begin facilitating my own course.

Module 3

Practice Facilitating

The most intriguing thing I learned in Module three was that effective facilitating includes many different facets that need to be addressed simultaneously:

  • Students need reminders on best practices in the discussion forum.
  • Students may need technological help at any point.
  • One role is preventing students from feeling isolated by responding to posts that have received no feedback in a two day period.
  • Waiting is the hardest part.
  • Staying positive, using humor, and taking the blame are all important instructor tools in a number of instances.
  • Making sure to emphasize the responsibility of students to adhere to class guidelines is important.
  • Sending private emails and then following up with generic news announcements can be a useful tool in emphasizing points.
  • Finding a good balance between accommodation and accountability is difficult.
  • Calling students to followup can be useful tool especially in a fast moving course, but may be considered intrusive by some students.
  • Starting new threads for students may be welcome in some instances.
  • Letting the dialogue develop before asking students to delve deeper may allow the students to get there on their own.
  • Checking progress daily, maybe three times a day, and keeping track of student participation can help with grading efficiency.
  • Including specific information in posts/emails can convey to the students a sense of your commitment to their success.
  • Helping students find posts/resources that may illuminate some new lines of thinking can be fruitful.
  • Spending time up front to give individual formative feedback on the construction of initial posts and responses can yield better constructive feedback throughout the course.

I will use this new found knowledge as an online facilitator by  incorporating these ideas into my practice as an online facilitator.  I felt confident facilitating the group this week and enjoyed the process and this experience will help me as I move forward in my internship and beyond.  I have also identified specific questions that I hope to investigate further:

-What is the best means of communication to ensure expeditious replies from students?

-How much leeway should I give struggling students?

-What is the best way to motivate students to respond to questions posed to the group?

-Should a group question emphasize missed points or act as a summary of points discussed by the group?

Other reflective thoughts…

I was asked by our instructor to reflect on the utility of having independent threads vs one single class thread.  Below are my reflections:
Independent Threads
Benefit:
  • Grading is much easier: you can easily identify how many colleagues each person has responded and evaluate their well designed initial post
  • Many disparate topics can be discussed in parallel
  • Everyone is given a chance to post an initial response outlining their thoughts
  • Gives students with disabilities a chance to develop a post at their own pace
Drawback:
  • Discourages free flowing conversation that can arise in more of a wiki format
  • Will be more difficult to make sure everyone is on the same page
  • Also a less efficient way to arrive at a class consensus on a topic

Upon reflection, I do like the independent thread idea mainly for the ability of everyone to post their initial thoughts independently of the group.  I am sure the grading benefits would also be apparent.  It would be interesting to utilize the single thread discussion occasionally to have a more fun and free flowing dialogue, this may however be difficult for some students.

 

Module 2

Assigning Group Membership

The most important thing I learned during Module Two was that personality tests are a poor method for determining group membership.  However, determining a person’s work ethic type can ultimately result in more successful and satisfying groups.  Adult students who identify themselves strongly as Type A or Type B have a more satisfying experience when working with students of the same type in an online environment.  This self assessment can be done in a one question survey as something similar to the following:

When referring to your own personal general tendencies for completing group tasks would you say you are:

• More of a Type A personsomeone who likes to be in control, prefers to get started on a project as quickly as possible and can be impatient when waiting for others to complete their part of a joint task.

• More of a Type B personsomeone who is willing to let others take the lead, prefers to wait until near the deadline to get started on a project and is laidback while others complete their part of a joint task.
or
When referring to your own personal general tendencies for saving the world with group members, would you say your personality tends to be:
• More of a Jason Bourne type personsomeone who likes to be in control, prefers to get started on “saving the world” as quickly as possible and can be impatient when waiting for the rest of the secret spy world to complete their part of the mission.
• More of a James Bond type personsomeone who is willing to let others sit round the roulette table with him or her, prefers to wait until
  • Lehmann, K. (2008). Creating cooperative learning groups that work: The role of type A/B personalities in formulating cooperative groups. VDM Verlag
  • Lehmann, Kay and Lisa Chamberlin (2009). Making the Move to eLearning: Putting Your Course Online. Rowman & Littlefield Education Publishers. (Paperback) ISBN-13: 978-1-60709-041-0.

This learning will benefit me as an online facilitator by
giving me a well researched tool to assign group membership.  I cannot understate the enthusiasm I feel for having a quick and efficient method for assessing group membership that will yield more satisfying and productive groups.  Ultimately, I envision much of my course design to rely on group work, including the use of case studies, and the task of helping students navigate group dynamics can often seem overwhelming.

 

Other reflective thoughts…

It also seems that there is a distinct difference in the timing of participation between Type A and Type B learners as described in my course by Kay Lehman:

“We often see these patterns in the postings as well as in group projects.  “A” learners will have 25+ posts by early Tuesday morning.  “B” learners will add less than 10 for the same time period.  Interestingly enough, by the end of the week, there are almost always equivalent amounts of posts by people of both personality types.”

It is good to know that participation throughout the week may very for any number of reasons, work type included, and may not reflect commitment to the course.

Module 1

 Instructional Design

As it is early in the course it is difficult to thoroughly comprehend the underlying instructional design.  However, some initial impressions are as follows:

The first week has been thorough:

  • Introduction Post and Replies
  • Good Practices Discussion Post and Replies
  • Syllabus Quiz
  • Group Dynamics Survey
  • Setting up the ePortfolio
  • Reflection Post
  • Designing and Answering Questions about a Contact Info Page

I can definitely see the utility of all these assignments, especially during the first week.  Additionally, the course is the final installment in the graduate certificate program and thus assumes some advanced knowledge by the students of how these courses function and how to complete tasks such as an ePortfolio.

I did learn about a good practice this week that may enhance the student experience during the first week and I will definitely take into consideration.  This good practice involved emailing students in advance perhaps with a personalized introduction, the introduction question, the syllabus, and instructions regarding the ePortfolio.  Indeed, this may ameliorate some of the load during the first week and encourage community building prior to the start of the course.

Checklist

The checklist as always is a vital tool in the online course and I especially enjoyed that the ePortfolio had a separate section on the checklist.  An excellent way for keeping the assignments straight.

Instructor Engagement

This is my first experience where the instructor posted a second question within the discussion to the entire class.  In the past, these questions were always posted to one or two individuals, at first I was skeptical of the new format, but I ended up finding it a useful way to continue the student engagement.  The instructor has a positive and welcoming tone that relieves any anxiety and encourages learning.

Good Practices

With the help of my colleagues I created a good practices in online facilitation priority list.  This list was based on the seven good practices in undergraduate education as stated by Chickering and Gamson in 1987 and the analysis of these practices in regards to online learning by Lehmann et. al. in 2009.

Priority list for Good Practices in Online Facilitation:
  1. Initial Instructional Design follows best practices

      1. Active Learning Techniques

      2. Chunking

      3. Time on Task Emphasized

      4. Diverse Learning Methods Implemented

      5. Good Alignment of Web 2.0 tools and Learning Objectives

      6. Clear Learning Objectives

      7. Accessibility

  2. Clear, Concise, Engaging Syllabus

      1. Setting Clear Expectations for Student Participation

      2. Clear Deadlines for Assignments

      3. Communication of High Expectations

  3. Open Communication and Availability between student and faculty

  4. Development of reciprocity and cooperation among students

  5. Prompt feedback

  6. Facilitator uses voice and tone following best practices

  7. Communication of high expectations by Encouraging Critical Thinking

  8. Evaluation of Effective Teaching Methods and Strategies

  9. Implementation of Changes to Enhance Efficacy of Course Design

Chickering, Arthur W., and Gamson, Zelda F.  “Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education” American Association of Higher Education Bulletin 39.7 (1987)

Lehmann, Kay Johnson, and Lisa Chamberlin. Making the Move to ELearning: Putting Your Course Online. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2009. 59-62.

It seems as though good practices in online facilitation follow something like Bloom’s taxonomy levels.  Ex.  You cannot set high expectations via critical thinking without first making sure your deadlines are clear, etc.  I believe this is the beginning of a personalized checklist that I can refer to as I am designing and implementing my courses.

This reference

  1. Dolittle and Orso (2012) Instructor-characteristics-that-affect-online-student-success. Faculty Focus. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/instructor-characteristics-that-affect-online-student-success/

was also highly useful and highlighted the importance of communication and availability in online facilitation.  Outstanding facilitators:

  • Responded at least three times daily to all online course emails

  • Graded all papers within 48 hours of submission

  • Offered specific feedback on all written work

  • Were compassionate to students’ needs

Contact Info Page

I decided not to provide my phone number as a potential way to contact me.  Does not providing my phone number create an impersonal environment or discourage students from contacting me?  I am also considering offering Skype appointments on an as needed basis, and I am wondering if this will end up being little used, over used, or create a third more personalized avenue to contact my students. 

Overall, I find myself pondering how do I create the right balance between availability and reasonable boundaries?

 

Maria Guillily, PhD