Hello. My name is Rachel Rigolino, and I am an instructor in the English Department at the State University of New York at New Paltz. During the summer, I teach two fully-online literature courses. This summer (summer 2012), I taught The Short Story (ENG308) for the first time. I also taught The Novel (ENG307), a course which I have offered online since 2003.The students in my courses are primarily from SUNY New Paltzalthough a significant number are from other schools. As I teach courses that fulfill general education requirements for SUNY, many of them are not English majors. In this portfolio presentation, I will review the Key Learning Points I have taken away from the SLOAN Foundation Course and the three workshops I have taken in the Course Design and Delivery track. I hope to demonstrate how what I have learned has informed my course design, teaching, and reflection.
The Quality Matters Rubric is a set of 8 general standards and 41 specific standards used to evaluate the design of online and blended courses. The Rubric is complete with annotations that explain the application of the standards and the relationship among them. A scoring system and set of online tools facilitate the evaluation by a team of reviewers.Unique to the Quality Matters Rubric is the concept of alignment. This occurs when critical course components - Learning Objectives (2), Assessment and Measurement (3), Instructional Materials (4), Learner Interaction and Engagement (5), and Course Technology (6) - work together to ensure students achieve desired learning outcomes. Specific standards included in Alignment are indicated in the rubric annotations.
Throughout the month-long foundation’s course, we were provided with some wonderful resources, and one of them is featured above: Karen Swan’s instructional booklet on Relationships between Interactions and Learning in Online Environments.As someone who has been teaching online since 1999, I know how important the instructor’s presence is to students who never see their teacher in person. As my course is centered on asynchronous discussion, most of my communication with students has to do with what they are posting on discussion board. I post highlights from discussion three times a week on the “front page” of Blackboard. This means that the average student who signs on three to four times a week will see excerpts from his/her writing as well as from his/her peers featured in the middle of the screen. Through this practice, I hope to indicate to students that their posts to one another (and to me) are being read and are essential to the course. What I learned from the SLOAN course was that there seems to be ample evidence that creating a sense of community in which student contributions are valued is important to student learning. In other words, my instincts that this relationship existed was confirmed by studies by Bell and others.The key changes I made in my approach to my online presence may sound rather simple, but they were big steps for me. I created an introductory Screen Cast that actually featured a photograph or two of me along with narration! In addition, each week I created an introductory video about the stories and writers we would be discussing.I did not find an effective way to assess whether my Screen Casts made a difference in student engagement, mostly because I did not have any repeat students this summer. In other words, I wish I had had a student (as I sometimes do) who was taking a second course with me, so that I could have asked himor her about the difference the Screen Casts made.SLOAN also taught me thatsynchronousexchanges can be valuable. Our Friday, real-time meetings via Blackboard Collaborate were often insightful, but I am not yet convinced they would play an important enough role in my courses to build them into my schedule. Perhaps, next summer, I will decide to keep virtual office hours at least once a week.
So, as noted earlier, I am interested both in the topic of student engagement as well as in new technologies. To that end, I signed up for a workshop that focused on these two issues. During the course of the workshop, I decided that I would make the first week introductions in both my course in The Short Story as well as The Novel more lively by asking students to include images when introducing themselves. I also worked in a degree of choice. The SLOAN foundation course stressed permitting student choice, so my students were allowed to use a variety of software and they did not, in fact, have to upload a photograph of themselves if they chose not to. I have included my directions in the slide above.The student choices in my courses were interesting: 7 created PowerPoints; 9 created PowerPoints and uploaded them to Slide Share; 8 chose to make Prezi presentations, 4 ventured into creating Glogster posters, and 3 used Microsoft Word. That all the students did not create PowerPoints was a surprise to me, underscoring the importance of allowing a degree of student choice and permitting them to showcase their abilities and preferences.Anecdotally, there seemed to be a livelier sense of discussion in both courses during the first week although it would take me weeks of parsing sentences and word choices to assess my evidence more objectively.
In spite of having taught online since 1999, I realize now that I have not been especially savvy in terms of utilizing resources such as MERLOT (although I do go to favorite sites such as Poets.org and Bartleby). Instead, when I am looking for something to supplement my course, I typically go out into the Wild, Wild Web searching for PowerPoints or videos. I did recently learn about TED, so I have visited that site.Of course, when looking for material, I have come across bad information; poorly-presented information; erroneous information, etc. This worries me because while I may know that a PPT about the Harlem Renaissance, for example, presents incorrect facts or that a PPT about commas uses commas incorrectly, will students or even will some instructors realize this? (I am thinking more perhaps about instructors overseas who may be teaching English as a foreign language.) Lack of quality control concerns me when it comes to OERs. While instructors may be more savvy about using reputable collections of material, I wonder about students.Sometimes, if the presentation is fairly good but has some errors or updates that are needed, I edit the PowerPoint myself and use it, giving credit to the original author. Other times, I recoil in horror and click away from the site.This summer, I found a lot of wonderful background videos about our authors via Films on Demand. This database is accessible via our campus library, and I received a lot of positive feedback from students about the videos.
Because I had become so adept at creating Screen Casts and uploading them to YouTube, I including directions about how to access assigned videos. These Screen Casts must have been effective because I had only sporadic emails from students asking for further clarification bout how to access videos or which videos to watch.
I had been eager to learn about Web 2.0 tools when I signed up for the Sloan Certificate course, and I looked forward to Week Five during which we were provided with readings and resources about free or low-cost tools.As a result of my earlier reading about student engagement, I chose to experiment with Screen-Cast-O-Maticand Slide Share to create weekly messages for students. I learned later in the certificate program, when discussing workload management, that these resources can be re-used if one is careful not to refer to dates and other time-sensitive information. At first, I was careful to script all of my slide narrations, but after a couple of tries, I realized that writing out every word I wanted to say was not necessary. I also discovered that YouTube has a closed-captioning feature, so that students who are hard of hearing can follow my narrations or print out a transcript later. On a side note, I noticed, after reading my own transcripts, how often I use fillers such as “uh” and “ummm.” I did try to work on this area of public speaking.Area that many courses need improvement in is Accessibility.
As I noted earlier when discussing the Foundation’s course, I was determined to create weekly messages for my two summer courses. I did not reach my goal in this area, creating Screen Casts that I uploaded to YouTube for Weeks 1-4 in The Short Story, but not for Weeks 5-7. In The Novel, I included an Animoto video for each book we read, but these had been created before my SLOAN coursework began.Students seemed to enjoy the videos I made as I found from reading the final course reflections. One student , for example, wrote, “I found the videos informative and generally put together well.” However, as a student, I sometimes fast-forwarded parts of introductory videos, so I am not sure how one can tell whether students also engaged in this practice once they clicked on a video. Again, assessing the effectiveness of my series of videos is proving to be a bit difficult. Anecdotally, they did seem to have been successful in creating a better sense of instructor presence. In addition, as a student in an online course myself, I appreciated being able to hear my instructor’s voice, and I assume this held true for most of my students. While I did not provide a welcome video for the later weeks, I did direct students to professionally made videos about Langston Hughes and our other writers. By Summer 2013, hope to have my own original Screen Cast overviews for the remaining weeks.
Student choice came up as a topic throughout my Foundation Course and all three electives. It was discussed in a variety of contexts from student engagement to student accessibility and learning styles.This summer, I assigned a student blog to my students enrolled in the Short Story as a creative alternative to a standard midterm, but gave my students enrolled in The Novel even more choice - - they could choose between creating a Blog or a Glogster poster.Interestingly, 9 out of 14 students enrolled in The Novel chose Glogster Posters. Now, I wish that I had provided the students in The Short Story the same degree of choice.I asked the students who created Glogs to reflect on their experiences. Here is a quote (used with permission) from one of the students:I thought this project was an interactive and creative way to get our mind’s thinking more concretely. This project allowed me as a student to think outside the box and use the creative part of my brain. I enjoyed focusing on one specific character and analyzing that character more in depth. The most difficult part about this project was figuring out the website. Everything was done by trial and error. It was hard to place everything in the “perfect’ way and choose color combinations, wording, and images that suit the character. These comments suggest that providing students with more choices in terms of assignments leads at least some to be more creative and may, as a result, keep them more engaged in the course.
In the workshop on student engagement, some of us discussed the role of course aesthetics. We noted that making a course not only easy to navigate (intuitive) but also pleasing to the eye is important in terms of keeping students interested in material. Before taking the SLOAN course, I was already a bit attuned to making my course easy to get around and pleasant to look at. Blackboard is a bit clunky to customize, but I typically create a banner which remains at the top of my page. This summer, I included images throughout the course to enliven the basic course presentation. In the SLOAN foundation’s course, I learned about the importance of redundancy and consistency. I was careful, therefore, to maintain the same order in which I presented the information. In other words, while the visuals changed along with the writers, the order in which the information and activities appeared did not.
In the future, I would like to find a ways to collect more quantitative and qualitative assessment data about particular aspects of my courses. In addition to using course tracking tools, I would like to learn more about how to create anonymous surveys and perhaps even ask my campus office of Institutional Research to conduct an online focus group at the end of the summer session. Because I am now a SLOAN member, I feel more confident about my ability to stay current when it comes to technology and research. Before taking the Foundation Course and workshops, I was too overwhelmed, in a sense, to pick up a journal or do research about best practices. SLOAN collects and organizes material in such a way that makes it accessible to instructors like me who are interested in technology, but are not necessarily “techies” or Ph. D. candidates in online instructional delivery and design. I want to keep taking workshop courses and bring back the information I am learning to my colleagues on campus.I would love to write an article about my experience using Glogster with literature students. Glogster is considered more useful in K-12, but I think there is a role for it in higher education, even if only as an ice-breaker.
It has been eight months since I began this journey towards my SLOAN Certificate, and I have learned more than I expected. When I began this presentation, I pointed out the value just in assuming the role of student in an online class. I now more fully understand what my typical students are going through and how they “see” an online course. A well-designed course in which the instructor maintains a consistent, thoughtful presence is essential to student success. SLOAN workshops underscore the point that course design and delivery are at the heart of an effective online course. While all courses should be thoughtfully designed, there is more room in face-to-face (F2F) courses for digressions or even disorganized lectures. Students in online courses do not have the luxury necessarily of approaching an instructor after a class and asking, “Can you explain the connection among Marx, Hemingway, and your dog more fully?” Or “When is that twenty page paper due?”Yes, email serves as a wonderful tool for posing follow-up questions, but a course should be thoughtfully enough designed so that students rarely use it to ask instructors to clarify directions or restate core course content.Instructor presence is crucial, and I am excited to see how my online courses have been transformed through my newly-acquired ability to make Screen Casts. Although I will likely re-use many of the ones I uploaded to YouTube, I can also appreciate the fact that students may want to know I have taken the time to create new ones, especially during those first crucial weeks of a course. While re-cycling some course material is always necessary, instructors should be wary of mindlessly reusing material.And this point brings me to my final thought about what I have learned by taking the Foundation Course and Workshops; namely, the importance of on-going assessment and reflection. Until I made the commitment to getting a SLOAN Certificate, I was made only half-hearted attempts at assessing, reflecting, and revising my online courses. SLOAN provided the structure I needed to engage in all these processes. As a result, I am a more thoughtful teacher and my students have benefitted.Thank you.
Using the Quality Matters Rubric to Improve an Online Course: A Case Study
The eight general standards include: Course Overview and Introduction Learning Objectives (Competencies) Assessment and Measurement Instructional Materials Learner Interaction and Engagement Course Technology Learner Support Accessibility