Nilson (2007) defines a graphic syllabus as “a flowchart or diagram that displays the sequencing and organization of major course topics through the semester. It uses spatial arrangement, connecting lines, arrows, and sometime numbers to show the logical, temporal progression of the course through topics within the subject matter. In addition, it may, but need not, use icons, pictures, and visual metaphors to convey the meaning of words, concepts, and relationships.
So how to meet students expectations about BEING AVAILABLE to them without actually BEING AVAILABLE to them all the time? To try to find a compromise between instructor availability and student expectation, in all of my classes this year I have implemented an additional set of “contact hours” via Google chat. I got the idea after the “Snow Days” last year, which required me to communicate via MSN with some students about their final projects. After doing some online research, I chose Google Chat because of its ease of use and because I assume that many students already have Gmail accounts. I created a “Tech Support” how-to guide for creating a Google Account and posted it my learning management system.
I use this power point slide show for all sections. These online office hours are only during my in-class office hours, although I say that I am happy to schedule an appointment. They are intended for students who could not otherwise attend my office hours in person, or for those who live out of town. I am careful to explain in what contexts it is preferable to see me in person. I am careful to explain that in-person students take priority. So far, the success of this work is inconclusive. As it’s still only halfway through the semester, I haven’t received last minute crisis emails. Another challenge I have faced is having regular internet access, as the wireless has been notoriously inconsistent at Western this fall.
Second life is a free 3D, user generated virtual world. With avatars, users move through and interact with objects and other avatars in the world. Second Life also has a built-in voice simulator that allows Avatars to speak to each other, similar to using the online phone service Skype, or individuals can use instant and private messaging to communicate. Second Life may be regarded as having advantages over traditional learning management systems because the social interaction of the avatars “gives you more of a sense of being there.” Distance education courses taught in Second Life would simulate a classroom experience and it would allow students from all over the world to interact. Instructors such as Carole Farber in the FIMS program at Western teaches distance education courses entirely in secondl ife. Second Life can also be used as a form of course related learning for on-campus courses. There are many museums, art installations, body renderings, recreations of real places (such as the Globe Theatre) that can be visited as part of the course. Dr. Mark McDayter in the English Department has created a replica of a working printing press, and he not only offers office hours in SL but he brings his students there to show them the workings of the press. One of the biggest limitations for some Second Life users may be their knowledge of the program or even just their computer technologies. Because of the detailed 3D images, users must have a high-end graphics card installed. Another drawback, like Google Chat office hours, is that you are tied to your computer.
Michael Ullyot from the University of Calgary has a Twitter feed for his class. This seems like a potentially valuable way to compromise between instructor availability and student expectations. Ullyot seems “available,” but only when he posts. If you visit his Twitter feed, you’ll find that he posts relevant websites, info on upcoming events, asks directed questions that his students answer, and has them ask questions as well.
He seems fairly active, according to the archive. I messaged him a few days ago to find out whether he found the additional time spent tweeting to be onerous. The benefit of using Twitter, however, is that, unlike Second Life, it is relatively easy to use and can be used anywhere as long as one has a computer or phone. Because of the limited character count, it would be limited, however, in terms of the “office hours” it could provide for students.
The Digg and Delicious social bookmarking websites can be used as a course related activity. Social bookmarking sites are just that – sites with lists of websites that are bookmarked by the user. The number of people bookmarking the sites, and descriptions of the sites, are available. I used Delicious in a media studies course, in which I had students seek our and assemble relevant websites for a database on the “ monsterous feminine. ” Students were already doing their “research” online, so with this tool I was able to discuss evaluating websites, how to summarize in order to create an annotative bibliography, and how to tag these different websites.
As with the Google Chat, I created a set of Power Point slides that illustrated, step by step, how to do the social bookmarking. Students were then encouraged to use the social bookmarked sites in their preliminary research for different activities that we did in the course. This was a mandatory activity—a participation grade—although students reported afterwards that they would have liked for it to be a voluntary one. They didn’t want to be “forced” to participate online, though many said they appreciated having the resource. The upside of this resource is that it was an out of class activity that produced a collaborative product that the whole class community could share. The downside of this resource is that it wasn’t “my” social bookmark list. Because it was hosted online by delicious, I’ve since lost the account.
Finally, I conducted a research on teaching and learning study on the use of course related materials in a First year English course. The instructor used a number of course related activities that were both on campus and online. One activity was a Facebook webpage. The instructor posted videos, asked guided reading questions, and posted course administration information on the page. It was voluntary to join, and approximately half of the students in the course joined. Over the course of the semester, students, used the facebook page to share course notes, to stay in touch with the instructor, to ask general questions, even to retrieve lost student cards. The instructor was clear that the page was voluntary, social, and course related. Description: A site for fun stuff relating (or not) to Sections 002 and 003 of English 020E (2007-2008). You are welcome to add your own comments, posts, or discussion threads here: indeed, I encourage you to do so! However, please keep content and language within the bounds appropriate and acceptable to a university course. Privacy Type: Closed: Limited public content. Members can see all content. In my study, students found that the ON campus activities added more interest and meaning to the course than the facebook page. At the same time, the students that actually used the Facebook page found it helpful. According to the instructor, it was minimal upkeep for him to post occasionally. He was clear that he would not befriend students. There are a few Facebook GROUPS that may be worth joining if you are considering using Facebook as a course related activity. One is the Faculty Ethics on Facebook. The founders of the Group also have a publication called Facebook For Educators, which is downloadable.
Note: Tools listed above are freeware. Web materials are subject to the copyright protections. Download with caution..
Supporting Course Delivery with Technology The CTE at the University of Waterloo Friday, November 5, 2011 Dr. Christopher Lee (Columbia) [email_address] and Dr. Elan Paulson (Western) [email_address]