We are the Program for Online Teaching, a group of volunteer faculty helping other faculty teach better online.

Our focus is on pedagogy as the guiding force for using technologies for teaching.

Many of us are from MiraCosta College in Oceanside, California. MiraCostans may access the Teaching/Technology Innovations Center for technical help, resources, news and more.

The POT Network

  • POT Diigo group
    (see tutorial on how to save bookmarks)
  • POT Facebook group
  • POT Vimeo Channel (workshops)
  • POT YouTube Channel
  • Twittter (please use hashtag #potcomm)

Developing Presence as an Online Instructor
Developing Presence as an Online Instructor avatar

by Todd Conaway, Yavapai College, Arizona (Educational Technology)

I suppose there is “presence” as in time and space and there is also the type of presence you have in the online environment. The former is more like, “Are you easily available to your students,” and are you present in course discussions and active member of the class. The latter might be more like what does the internet say about you? How does your personality come across in the digital spaces? I am not sure if you can have one without the other. Just as when you are talking to someone in a hallway, you are obviously there in time and space, but you also can’t help but to share your personality with the person you are speaking to. PRESENCE IN TIME AND SPACE I have a colleague who just completed a master’s level course that was delivered online. After lengthy discussions about the absence of his instructor in class activities he finally emailed the faculty in charge and was told that the class followed a constructivist model and that the learning was created by the students. Therefore, the instructor was the barley visible guide on the side. My questions were like these:

  • Did the faculty have any synchronous office hours? Like a phone number? A Skype contact? If so, was it encouraged that students use it?
  • Were there any synchronous times and tools for students to meet? With or without the faculty? How was that encouraged by the faculty?
  • Were there any kind of office hours in real buildings or coffee shops in the off chance that someone taking the class actually lived near the institution the course was being delivered from?
  • How active was the instructor in the course discussions in the LMS? On blog postings or in Facebook groups?
  • Does the course use Twitter as a means to communicate trouble? Happiness?

We all have a syllabus that says we are located at this email address. If we are an adjunct, maybe we give our students our cell phone numbers? Sure, there are ways to communicate online in what in many cases has become a completely asynchronous environment. Email dominates the communication in most online college courses. But email is terrible and time. And time is important. I do not have any answers for the best way for instructors to travel in time, but I do think a good question to ask is, “How can I best relate information to my students?” In many cases, email will not be at the top of the list. So what are the options in this digital age where we wear all the world as our skin? PRESENCE AS IN “WHO ARE YOU?” In 2008 I delivered a conference session titled, “Your Digital Personality: The Real You in Your Online Class.” At that time I also bought my first domain and used it for the handout for the conference session. I handed out business cards with the conference logo, the URL of the digital personality site and a Pink Floyd shirt.

While at that time I felt like I was becoming more comfortable in the online space, it was still a big learning curve and I spent much time trying to figure out how to control the web and how to make it reflect just who I am what I want to share. The Digital Personality site has an RSS feed on the right side from a Diigo list I created. It has some good articles on digital presence. Do you ever Google your name? Does the real you show up? If nothing shows up, what does that say about your comfort on the web? Your digital footprint, large or small, should reflect who you are out there in the real world. Just like the real you in a classroom reflects who you are outside of the classroom. You can’t escape that and it is becoming harder and harder to escape it online.

As we push for a better and deeper digital literacy for our students, we should expect the same or more from our faculty.

The World Wide Web is meant to connect things. In many ways, classrooms are meant to contain things. That is particularly true of the Learning Management System. How do we use the web to share the great things we do as educators? As people with unique and wonderful gifts? Taking advantage of the web and using it to share our work is one way to build a larger and fuller image of you on the web. Just recently our institution allowed faculty to create their “probationary portfolios” online. They had all been required to turn them in in three-ring binders up to that point. How to you share the digital work you create? Do you use YouTube to record lectures? Do you use Jing or some screencasting tool to create demonstrations or micro-lectures? Do you curate relevant course content for students using Diigo or some other tool? How do you see the opportunities the web/the computer provides? As possibilities or as detrimental deterrents to learning in the classrooms that exist today? Most likely, a little of both. To me, it is being able to send my mother who lives in another state a video of her granddaughter singing a Leonard Cohen tune my mom loved so much.

I don’t care what you say, that is invaluable. One thing I have learned from working with teachers is that they are usually a humble lot and don’t see what they do as “really amazing.” I know that they do amazing things every day. And I know that sharing those things they do outside the classrooms they work in and the Leaning Management Systems they teach from is hugely important to the progress we will make in education in the coming years. The internet provides a great medium to do just that.

Strategies for assessment
Strategies for assessment avatar

Jill Malone, MiraCosta College (Media Arts and Technologies)

In some ways project assessment for my online students is nearly identical to that of my on-site classes. Maintaining very high standards (I keep raising that bar and they keep meeting it, it’s awesome) and providing my students with a clear, detailed assessment rubric (evaluation guide, check list, whatever you choose to call it that might look like this: Rubric for PS Project 2-online) that defines exactly what I’m going to assess and how I’m going to assess it are key to both my online and on-site courses. “I was supposed to do that???” is not something I should ever hear, and if I do it’s because (1) the student didn’t bother to read the rubric, or (2) my rubric is a mess and I need to fix it.

I’ve also learned that if I want to assess excellent work from my students, it helps to show them what “excellent work” actually looks like. This, of course, is more easily done in an on-site class where I have printed examples to share. For my online students, however, this entails generating yet another instructional video. Okay, I can hear some of you protesting that you’ve already created a hundred online videos and You Are Over It, thank you very much. Great, this will be video #101. It’s worth it. I’ve found that providing examples of outstanding work from former students stimulates creativity and demonstrates by example that exceptional craftsmanship really is achievable in my class. Here’s a for-instance: For their second project my students need to create a digitally painted piece that visually expresses the emotions and imagery a particular song evokes for them. Sound like fun? It is! Easy to do? Absolutely not! So to get them started I provide a video with examples of what other students have done. In addition, I created a video with a  “before & after” example by a former student that illustrates some artistic hurdles she experienced with Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and how she handled them. I’ve found that the more time and effort I invest up front providing good examples for my students to ponder, the better the results are at the end (and the less work and frustration I have) when it comes time to assess their creations.

Even so, I found the artistic quality of the work in my online class wasn’t as good as that of my on-site students, and the reason was pretty obvious. In my on-site classes everyone learns from the immediate, real-time feedback I give each student during our rough draft critique sessions, which in turn, makes for dramatically improved final projects. But how to accomplish this in an online course where everything is asynchronous? The answer: By making this part of the course not asynchronous. So now, as a required part of their project grade every student must attend a real-time, synchronous rough draft lab session where, using Collaborate, I capture their computer screen and share it with the other students in attendance. At that point I can see what they’ve done and how they’ve done it, and I can offer suggestions for improvement. To accommodate the various schedules of my students I offer these synchronous sessions at different times during the week – in the evening, in the morning, and in the afternoon – so every student can attend at least one session. I also post the dates and times of these synchronous lab sessions prominently in the course syllabus so each student can plan ahead for them. This has improved immensely the quality of the work submitted by my online students, which in turn has made my assessment of these projects much easier.

And finally, there’s that business of assigning a numeric grade to each student and providing the rationale behind that grade. For years I wrote paragraphs explaining this-is-why-you-got-the-grade-you-did to each student, trying so hard to explain what was done well and what wasn’t and how to improve. Except I’m never sure they even read my carefully crafted comments. Plus, the tone I was trying to convey never seemed to make it across in my writing (and probably still doesn’t, are you all bored to tears??). So I stopped doing it. Instead, I now create and attach an MP3 file with my verbal comments (fictitious MP3). Because my students have heard that familiar voice week in and week out from all my posted videos, there’s no question who’s talking to them. This simple switch from text to audio has been a godsend: It’s been well received by my students, and posting their grades is faster and easier for me to do.

Oh good lord, I just blathered on for four full paragraphs! Is anyone still reading this?? I swore I was going to keep this discourse to a hundred words or less. Not even close. Sorry! That’ll teach you, Lisa, to ask me to contribute to a blog!

Presence as an online instructor
Presence as an online instructor avatar

Bethanie Perry, MiraCosta College (History)

Link to transcript

Materials in an online class
Materials in an online class avatar

Lisa M Lane, MiraCosta College (History)

When designing an online class (I’m doing one now on the History of Technology) I try to keep in mind that I have the whole web to play with.

Starting from a position of control, of knowing that I have choices of what to offer my students, is important. To me, the materials make the class, not just by providing “content”, but by creating pathways for learning.

Many years ago, I was teaching at San Elijo campus and it was the first day of a new semester. After going over the syllabus, a student asked, “What are you going to do to get me interested in history?” I responded that the materials I’ve assigned should do that, the letters and documents and readings. I explained that they had all been carefully chosen to provide a real sense of the past, and would draw him in if he’d let them. At the end of the semester, he told me he thought that was bullshit on the first day, but it turned out I was absolutely right.

Continue reading Materials in an online class

Materials in an online class avatar

Back to the Beginning
Back to the Beginning avatar

by Joanne Carrubba, MiraCosta College (Art History)

If I think waaaayyyy back (5 years, but it seems so long) to when I started teaching online, I remember being completely intimidated with the idea of teaching Art History to students through a computer rather than in a classroom. I could not conceive of how I would show images, encourage discussion of those images, give feedback, and do assessments. I suppose it didn’t help that I was given a canned, pre-done Moodle classroom, and no training or assistance.

I wish I had known what was out there for online instructors. I didn’t think about doing video lectures, or being sure that my syllabi, classroom, and feedback were not too text heavy. It was by far the most intimidating, confusing, and scary start of a semester in the 10+ years I have been teaching. Also, it was the LEAST successful, for me and the students.

I wish I had known about the numerous pedagogy and online teaching blogs that exist on this wonderful internet. I also wish I had known about teachers who post examples of interesting, clickable syllabi. Knowing about cool tools for myself and my students, and the idea of video lectures, intros, and voice thread for feedback would also have been amazing for all involved in that first, disastrous online class. I also wish I had gotten involved in the POT community right then, as this is a wonderful place to share ideas and tools, as well as give feedback.

Ah, but now….how far I’ve come! (I hope)