Tag Archives: Activities

Anonymous Discusison Board Activity

Reading: Identified vs Anonymous Participation in Student Discussion Boards

Online discussion boards, and associated activities that use them, can get a bit of a bad name sometimes either through inacitivty or lack of quality posts to abusive or bullying. I admit these are extremes of activity, but none the less still valid concerns for academics who want to try something new or different.

I’ve always tried to advocate the approach of ‘design an activity and then see which tools fits’ rather than ‘an activity written around a discussion board’. The latter implies it’s the tool driving the activity, the former implies the activity or learning outcome is matched to the most appropriate tool.

When setting discussion boards up I’ve always favoured posts being attributed to and identifiable to the person posting it – this helps to build personal relationships based on content and opinions, it also helps to encourage ownership and a responsible online etiquette (netiquette). But what about the option of allowing posts to be anonymous? Does this stop the discussion taking shape or progressing?

The paper, by Roberts and Rajah-Kanagasabai (2013) looks at the anonymity of posts and the ‘comfort’ of students to participate in anonymous discussions over those where they are identified. Continue reading


Using video: from passive viewing to active learning

videoEmily Moore has written this great introduction in the Faculty Focus: online magazine: “From Passive Viewing to Active Learning: Simple Techniques for Applying Active Learning Strategies to Online Course Videos”. Please read the original as it covers more in depth use of video, but my highlights of the piece are below.

Video as a guided lesson (flipping the classroom?): “The goal here is to help ensure that students watch videos actively—in other words, giving it their full attention. You also want to help draw students’ attention to (and reinforce) the most important concepts being presented.”

  • Pose a question at the beginning of each video to give students an idea before they watch of what to expect, what to look for, and what might be worth thinking about.
  • Present videos in an outline-like structure using concise, descriptively labeled links that include running times as shown below.
  • Embed short graded or self-assessments either in the video itself, or at the end of each video.

Video as springboard for in-depth discussion: Continue reading

Essentials of Online Course Design

Book Review: “Essentials of Online Course Design”

Essentials of Online Course DesignThe book “Essentials of Online Course Design” from Majorie Vai and Kristen Sosulski is one I have heard about from a few people recently, and one I felt would be worth reading, and at a reasonable £22 from Routledge it’s a fair investment … not to mention the accompanying companion website.

The book is described as a “fresh, thoughtfully designed, step-by-step approach to online course development.” The core of the book is a set of standards that are based on ‘best’ practices (I prefer the term ‘good practice’ as ‘best practice’ implies there is no room for improvement) in the field of online learning and teaching. “Pedagogical, organizational and visual design principles are presented and modeled throughout the book and users will quickly learn from the guide’s hands-on approach. The course design process begins with the elements of a classroom syllabus which, after a series of guided steps, easily evolve into an online course outline” (this last bit was taken from the promotional text).

It is well structured with chapters organised in a nice ‘progressive’ way enabling you to build on previous concepts and content (not to mention contexts), with chapters like:

  • Engaging the Online Learner
  • Activities and Tools: Working Collaboratively and Independently
  • Assessment & Feedback
  • Building the course Foundation: Outcomes, Syllabus, and Course Outline
  • Creating the Course Structure: Online Lessons

The authors are at pains with this book to describe what works in an online learning and teaching environment without using the same tired, complicated, and often dense formats, and they have successfully simplified the processes required when applying a ‘standards-based’ approach enabling you to think more clearly on the “challenging task of rethinking your content for online study”. I know from experience that the recording of a face-to-face lecture does not work for online students: they just won’t sit for 45+ minutes to watch or listen to it. However, if you break down the recordings to an optimum 10-15 minute chunk they’re more manageable and digestible, therefore it should be recorded in this way and properly structured in the first place, with the online student in mind (the recordings are still valuable and applicable to campus-based students as well).

The companion website is also a valuable resource in its own right, but with the book targeting what and when you should use it the examples and references it contains should help you with the initial course build as well as being a good reference guide for course review and redesign.

Essentials of Online Course Design

So, what have I got from the book, either as something new or some existing knowledge or ideas reaffirmed?

  • Course design: careful consideration is needed when developing a course from scratch, especially to the structure you use and the technologies you implement – each element will need an introduction and explanation according to your target audience/student. If you think your student audience is likely to need more hand-holding when dealing with new technologies then get the appropriate support and/or resources in pace for them before they realise they need it.
  • Multimedia: images, video, and audio presentation/narration can improve the ‘clarity’ of presentation and understanding and can, where used appropriately, enhance the learning. Where they are used badly it can be an unwanted distraction, so use wisely.
  • Context – often overlooked in course design is the simple step of introducing yourself to your students. It’s not just about “this is me and this is how you can get in contact’, it’s also about giving the students the background as to why you are qualified to be leading them in this course/subject area. Tell them about your professional self, your research, your publications, what qualifications you bring to the subject speciality … only those that are relevant to the topic (not your full CV, they’re not that interested!).
  • Sign-post it and Use it – whatever you design, make sure you sign-post it, explain why you’re doing it, and use it yourself. If you have a discursive activity explain the ‘why’ as well as the ‘how’ and be the first person to post – introduce your expectations. Don’t forget to close the discussion as well, bringing the different strands of the activity into your conclusion and highlight concepts and individual contributions, not necessarily as good/bad examples, but just posts that led the discussion in certain directions.
  • Consistency – use the same font, font size, colours, etc., as well as the same type of headings in different places – if you swap and change throughout the course you’ll confuse and disorientate your students. You also need to consider the consistency of the jargon and style of your words, find your style and stick to it, it’ll be easier for the student to read.
  • Structure – what works in your classroom does not translate directly to the online world. Online resources for learning does not mean a ‘document repository’ of PDF and PPT files. If this is what you have and insist on using then at least provide a meaningful introduction to the file, what it contains/what it’s about, why the student needs it, and an activity for the student to engage in a a result of reading the file.
  • Orientation – thankfully this book does include orientation. Too many students are dumped in at the deep end with their online course with little explanation as to what or why they’re doing it (other than to ‘learn’ and ‘pass’) and hardly ever have the ‘intended learning outcome’ (ILO as I know it) explained. Include and explain the outcome and syllabus in relation to the assessment and any related knowledge needed for subsequent courses.
  • Learning Outcome – ever needed to write a learning outcome for your course and struggled? There’s an appendix to the book that covers this, and is a really useful guide including outcome vs. objective, rationale, and writing the outcome.

I know I can’t include all the best bits of the book, I’d have to reproduce a vast quantity of the book to do that, but I hope I’ve given you an idea why I like it and will be using it for reference in the future.

Have you read this book, do you agree with me and/or the authors? Please leave a comment below and join in the discussion.

Induction Activities: Some good examples using video …

As some of you may know I am working towards a post-graduate certificate qualification in Education Practice at Bournemouth University. I’ve spent most of my Christmas break (when the family and kids allowed) working on my first assignment for the ‘Introduction to Education Practice’ unit. I am basing this on my work in developing and delivering the Induction Programme for the fully-online International Business and Management under-graduate degree, and how it can be improved/updated to suit the possible changing student profile in the anticipated future economic climate.

While searching and researching the various methods of induction for students I cam across these videos and explanations on the IMU eLearning blog, a few I’ll show here, but please view the original post to view them all.

  • What happens next?

Ask the students to watch the video below and be prepared to discuss a ‘what happens next’ situation. Play the video and pause it when the cat reaches the fishbowl, then ask your students to discuss what happens next. Most likely you will stimulate their minds to think creatively about what happens next in a competitive but enjoyable way. Did you guess what happened next … ?

  • Awareness test

Tell the students you are looking for them to be observant, and to count how many passes of the ball the White team makes. Play the video below and pause it when the teams have stopped passing the ball between them. Ask for the answers … and then ask them if anyone saw the moonwalking bear? When they’ve stopped gasping or laughing continue the video.

  • Language Skills

This is a good example of the importance of language skills, which can often be a sensitive subject for some students who have poor english – use this light-hearted example to break the barrier and raise a laugh or two.

Do you use any video clips in your induction? If so please share with us all and leave a comment.

PS. I used the Smart YouTube WordPress plugin to embed these YouTube videos, try it out on your own WordPress blog too, it’s so very easy!

Induction Activity

Induction Activity – “in 100 words or less …”

Induction week, for campus-based students is all about getting to know each other, getting to know the programme team, and socialising. This is also true for online students, although it is not always easy to forge the same kind of understanding, relationships and outcome; but it’s not impossible.

Working online is not often a natural feeling for students, whatever their age. To this end we, the facilitators, need to carefully design the Induction programme and activities to make the students feel at home, comfortable in the online environment, and able to comment in a risk- and blame-free environment.

This makes it all the more important to carefully design and implement the introduction, the learning environment, and the online activities you expect them to participate in. Last year I wrote about five such activities in my post Online Induction: Icebreaker Activities.

Here is another one, modified from  Ryan Watkins’ book “75 eLearning Activities – making online learning interactive” (Amazon link);

Objective: This gives the students the opportunity to share their thoughts on a  topic (decided by the activity moderator) in the VLE to encourage a reflective process about themselves and their colleagues.

This can be used with either a Discussion Board or a Blog, depending on the preference and confidence of the moderator and expected technical competencies of the student cohort.

Process: The moderator provides the topic, usually something topical to current news, the programme content or learning style (eLearning), and encourages the students to initially post their responses (100 words or less). Once all students have responded the moderator encourages further posts replying to at least 3 entries made by their colleagues, also in 100 words or less.

Additional Information: If students are new to the technology (blog, discussion board) then appropriate training material is needed.

Ideally the kind of Induction Activity you use ought to be a mixture of reflective and collaborative styles in order to get the students engaged and comfortable with each other, with you (the moderator), and in working online in what many may find a new and alien environment.

What kind of activity do you use, is it specifically designed for online students or one that can be used for campus-based as well as online students?

Online Induction: What happened?

Online Induction ActivitiesI wrote the post “Online Induction: What can possibly go wrong?” as I was getting myself and the materials ready for a week of induction activities for new students to the online degree programme at Bournemouth University.

This, in itself, was a follow up to the “Online Induction: Icebreaker Activities“, where I was working through some ideas on what I would deploy for the students.

So, with a week to recover, reflect, and collect the stragglers, how did it go?

With one week set aside for their Online Induction, the students were asked to do the following (this was based on instructions given in a letter and a supporting website, with an introduction to the VLE / Blackboard):

NB: these are mature students, often in full-time employment, and with family and social commitments.

  1. Introduce Yourself: Using a wiki, the students created a page and placed a bi0 (about 200 words) about themselves and why they have just started an under-graduate degree in International Business & Management. They then linked this page to the wiki home page, so other students could find and leave a comment on it.
    [Wiki support video]
  2. Send an email: In order that we can confirm the students have successfully accessed the University webmail system and their account, they send me an email. This also means we will stop using their private email; we cannot manage mail lists of some uni, some private emails; they must all use their uni email address and account for communication.
  3. Point of Contact: Online test (Blackboard) with about 6-8 questions where we outline a typical question – the answer being “who do you go to in the following situation?”. This introduces them to the team and the type of problem each of us can help with (mitigating circumstances, technical, library, etc).
    [Test/MCQ support video]
  4. Spending Spree: What would you spend $50,000 on, guilt free? Enter response in a blog, and comments on another students idea.
    [Blog support video]
  5. Lonely Hearts column: Some fictitious lonely hearts adverts are discussed in a discussion board. Which one (3 male, 3 female) would make you find out more, and which one makes you crawl?
    [Discussion Forum support video]

What else did we do during the Induction week, beside guide/follow them through the activities:

  • Announcements: important announcements about their studies, the programme, the Library, the University, the first Unit of study, Technical support, etc.
  • Introductions: emails from the programme and administrative team (as well as participating in the first activity).
  • Support Website: In case they were unable to access the VLE, we had a set of flat HTML files that replicated the instructions for the activities, but not the activities themselves. This is really just so they have something to read until we can sort their access issues!

So, these were the activities. How did they do? Well, firstly, what was the engagement like?

  • One or two students did everything on the first day, never to be seen or heard of again.
  • One or two students appeared on day 7, right at the last possible moment and did the absolute minimum.
  • The majority of students dipped in and out during the week, completing the first 2 or 3 activities, but not the last one.
  • A few questions about how they would complete the wiki / blog activities. The students were directed to the already advertised support videos for each tool, where the tool was demonstrated in a real-world example.
  • Those that were active at the beginning of the week missed out on the ‘community feel’ at the end of the week.
  • Those who were active at the end of the week were more likely to just read what other students said than to enter in to the activity.
  • Activity from students who logged on a few times during the week was better; they made more comments and generally acted like they were in 2-way community instead of just ‘publishing’ to the community.

So, the activities:

  1. Introduce Yourself: 80% of the students completed this; the other 20% did not do this, but they also didn’t do any of the other activities either! One the whole they all were able to create the page and enter their details (some with pictures and links), but not all were able (or remembered) to create the link off the home page.
  2. Email: All but one student could access their email account, and that one student was easily sorted (password typo?).
  3. Point of Contact: A simple multiple-choice test (MCQ), most student completed it. What we now need to do is go back and report on the results.
  4. Spending Spree: All those who have completed other activities completed this too. The results are more indicative of the times we live in; most would spend some or all on the mortgage, holiday, or car (in that order).
  5. Lonely Hearts: As the last activity, this was predictably the one with the least number of students active, whether it was the subject matter, the tool (DF), or just they felt they’d already done enough.

How do you measure the success? I prefer looking at the number of students (or lack of) who had issues and needed to contact me (as the Learning Technologist) to find solutions rather than measure the success by the activities completed. This year was good; few students having more than the basic “forgotten password” issues, and only one with broadband/connection problems (out of my control).

I’m already planning next year, so between now and then I’ll be hunting around for some new and exciting ways to get them working together online. Any suggestions welcome, please let me know by commenting below …

Online Induction: What can possibly go wrong?

face1Well, it’s that time of year again and we’re are well into the week lomg Induction and Induction Activities. While we can be as clear as possible with instructions, sign-posts to the materials, and access, it is a sure bet that one or more student will have trouble of some sort.

What can possibly go wrong? I had to ask didn’t I … so here is a break-down of what we all know happens, but hope and pray it doesn’t;

  1. Registration – Something completely out of our control for the most part, once the student enters the abyss that is online registration we can only hope they appear on the other side unscathed and alive!
  2. Logging in – If registration worked, then logging in should work too. Here is usually the first gap in the student mentality … “I’ve forgotten my user name / password (delete as appropriate)!”. This is bizarre as they’ve just assigned (or been assigned) these in the registration process, and probably have them written down or at least an email confirming them?
  3. Accessing the VLE – Bizarrely this often crops up. All communication we have points them in the direction which links and huge buttons … how can you not spot those?
  4. Accessing the VLE, but then getting lost – Yes, it happens. It is another example of not reading or following the instructions.
  5. Instructions .. what instructions – Yes, it happens every year, and the answer is still the same .. RTFM!
  6. Instructions … really? You know they’ve read the instructions, you know the instructions are fool proof, yet still the phone calls and emails come in as they cant find what is in front of them.
  7. Partially complete – When the first activity is completed, and then the student stops. When we say “please complete all 5 activities”, we mean it!
  8. Complete, but wrong – The activity is complete, then you realise that someone has done the wrong activity in the wrong place. Even worse, they’ve put their own biography in the wiki but replaced the home page instead of creating their own page. Yes, you can revert back to the previous version, but it’s been like it for days … which explains the emails and phone calls from other students not understanding what they’re supposed to do.

So, what can we do? Well, we’ve revisited and reworded nearly everything, several times, in an effort to help the students and prevent them getting lost, but does there come a point when we have to put our hands up and say “everything is available and signposted, what more can we do”?

I don’t like doing this, as it affects the student experience, but what else can we do?

If you’ve something to add to the above, based on your own experiences (past and present) please leave a message after the beeb … ‘beep’.

Ice Breaker Activities

Online Induction: Icebreaker Activities

Ice Breaker ActivitiesOne aspect of learning online is that the students will feel distant and isolated from not only you (the Institution and staff facilitator) but also from each other.

So, what can you do to make them feel included and valued? Firstly, use the induction period to get them used to not only working and talking in the online environment, but also engaging online (collaboration, tests, discussions, etc).

My personal favourite is to get the students doing something that uses a piece of technology they’re not familiar with, but in a way that they don’t realise their using or doing something new. A properly organised activity should get the students thinking about the task, not the tool!

So, Induction & Icebreaker activities. What can you do (and they aren’t limited to using in Induction; they can be used at any time)?

1) Picture Perfect

Objective: Create a visual connection with fellow students, and also to practice skills in graphic communication.

Blog (best), Wiki, or Discussion Board.

Process: Locate a favourite photograph and post to the delivery method.  If the photo is not yet in digital format, arrange to have it scanned and made available in JPG file format. In the post, student ought to say a little about the photo and why it is their favourite.  Then go and view the photos and messages of their colleagues.

Additional Information: This does not have to be a photo of family, but of a subject that has meaning to them (pet, car, city, landscape, friends, etc).

2) Lonely Hearts

Objective: The objective of this exercise is to analyse how we perceive people from the information they offer online, using ‘lonely hearts’ adverts.

Wiki, Blog, or Discussion Board (best).

Process: Read the pre-prepared lonely heart adverts and make comments on the individual behind each advert in the Discussion Board. Engage fellow students in conversation based on their entries and comments.

3) Shopping Trip

Objective: To encourage the students to get to know who they are studying with. What is their colleagues ‘priority’ when it comes to spending £50,000 on anything they want, guilt free.

Delivery: Blog or Discussion Board.

Process: The students will post information about what they will spend their £50,000 on. Depending on the age and background of the students as to whether you get a lot of property/mortgage replies or cars and holidays. If applicable, ask for links and photos of examples to demonstrate what they are looking to ‘buy’.

4) Truth

Objective: Students learn, often by trial and error and much laughter, two interesting facts about a colleague, and one untruth.

Delivery: Discussion Board.

Process: Student list three ‘interesting’ things about themselves. Two must be lies and one must be true. Other students must vote to determine which is a lie.

5) Memory Lane

Objective: Since online students are diverse in age as well as background and location, it is good to close any generation gap that might exist and otherwise be a disadvantage when working together online.

Delivery: Blog (best) or Discussion Board.

Process: Ask the students to list three major world events that happened the year in which they were born, then have the other members guess the year and post a short response on whether they remembered the events or had never heard of them.

Of course this is by no means an exhaustive list, and I’m happy to hear your activities, so please post below.

Try to keep all your activities using tools already available to the students in the VLE or PLN you use, don’t ask them to go off and register for something new; they may be scared enough already using the VLE that is new to them, anything else may be one step too far!

Ideally the kind of Induction Activities you use should be a mixture of reflective and collaborative styles in order to get the students comfortable with each other, you (the facilitator) and in working online in what many will find a new and difficult environment.

Image source: Storm Crowd by JD Hancock (CC BY 2.0)