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.

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This is About the LMS
This is About the LMS avatar

Todd Conaway, Yavapai College, Arizona (Educational Technology)

After nine years of helping faculty learn how to use Blackboard, our college is moving to Canvas.

Right now.

I could say lots of funny things about this move. Like the several faculty who noted that they felt as if they were just figuring out how to use Blackboard and now they are being forced to move to another platform. I could tell you about the faculty who said that they were pissed for having to recreate courses that took them years to create. Of course, there are also those who had long railed against the Blackboard Borg like engine and are happy as larks to finally be free of the beast.

I could even comment on the few who said that if we move from Blackboard, they are going to quit teaching online.

That one is not so funny.

For me, as an instructional designer, it gives me some different spaces to craft courses and some features that will be new to instructors here at this college.

Simple things really. Like we will have the ability to chat in real time with our students and students can, like we have been able to do in Facebook for years, see who else in our class is online. We never purchased the Wimba tools in our version of Blackboard here at this college. We had to use Facebook groups to see who might be available to help us. As you can imagine, few faculty took that road.

Simple things like being able to be notified via SMS that a paper has been graded or someone has responded to one of our discussion posts. We never had those tools in Blackboard either. To be fair, they have been available, we just never purchased them.

Having a mobile app that works well will also be a step up for us. Having the ability to click a button and create a short video without having to have a YouTube account will also be new to us.

Lots of little new improvements. Great.

But I am also saddened as Canvas is a little closer to an institutional dress code than I would like.

Of course the notion of management and learning is nothing new. We have organized course in specific rooms for years. And certainly there is some wisdom in assisting the institution and the students with some of the organization. Yep. Enrollments and grades and other information that needs to be secured can all go in safe and secure system. We have things that do just that. And as we often sadly note, we have crafted the online learning management to look just like the face to face management of a common classroom.

Much of what is in any online course is just stuff to be delivered to a student. Sadly anyway, that is often the case. The LMS is a vehicle to get stuff to students. I understand. They need to have stuff delivered to them. The internet on the whole is good at delivering stuff to people and it can do it well in many ways. With or without the LMS.

Some faculty roam around the internet and make something beautiful for students. At least as beautiful as the stuff that can go into the rectangle can get.  And beautiful is a part of learning. At the very least there is an aesthetic that is part of ALL experience, be it audio, visual, or tactile. Why not provide our students with at least some sense of a pleasant aesthetic experience when we are just delivering stuff to them?

Hiking Class

Click image to visit Yavapai College Hiking Class Website

Even the threaded discussion forum can look reasonably nice. This one using a tool called Discourse.


I suppose for my part here at the college I am getting better at the use of Canvas and I see some great opportunities. And really that is all I have ever looked for. Great Opportunities.

I was not looking for the EASY way to get students into the “work.” I never really thought that it was best to make it easy. I understand the argument of making content readily available to students, but having a single URL that has the course information is far easier than logging into some SAS system and then clicking on the Blackboard icon and then finding the right class and clicking on it. One click versus three or four. The internet is just a bunch of links and addresses.

I do think as we ponder our use and abuse of the LMS in academic settings we should wonder about things like aesthetic, ownership, literacy, visual demonstration of competency, and what it looks like to demonstrate life-long learning. The computer and internet, for all the sad ways we have used them and the changes they have made to society, are not going away. We need to use them wisely.

I am genuinely excited by the possibility of improvement for the college and the students learning experiences as we move to Canvas. But if we only keep our eyes focused on the LMS and ignore the rest of the internet we will continue down a path leading to minimal digital literacies for faculty and students, and a path that ultimately confuses the beauty of discovery and possibility with the simple delivery of content and ease of access to it.

And you know how I feel about “easy.”

Cool Tools for Instructor and Student-Use
Cool Tools for Instructor and Student-Use avatar

by Jordan Molina, MiraCosta and Palomar Colleges (English)

I am interested in using student-generated content (educational material authored by students) in my classes–which generally encourages student engagement, authority, and accountability– so I thought I would highlight a few online tools that students can use to create course content to share with their peers.

Survey Monkey
This free, accessible tool allows users to create their own surveys or quizzes which can include a variety of questions from fill-in-the blank to multiple choice to ranking responses. These surveys or quizzes have a unique URL that is easy to copy and paste into an email to respondents. Survey Monkey also automatically analyzes the results and provides graphics for easy comprehension.

Students can use this tool to poll peers, gather research, create sample test questions for review or for a question bank, in addition to many other useful outcomes. (I’ve used Survey Monkey to poll students to select essay topics and readings of interest.)

Eng 202 Survey


Lucid Chart
This free (for students and educators) tool allows users to create flowcharts or “brain maps.” Students can chart steps in a sequence of events, associations among concepts, or paths to various outcomes. (I’ve used Lucid Chart for writing prompts—like the Rhetorical Mash-up below–that require a variety of steps to be taken in a specific order.)

Mash-up Writing Activity - New Page

Discussion Boards & Wikis
Both discussion boards and wikis are often integrated into Blackboard and other LMSs which provide students an opportunity to carry on conversations with each other in an asynchronous format. Wikis allow students to collaborate on documents—think Google Docs—and generate content that can be edited by all users.

Students can be leaders in discussion board threads throughout the semester to engage with their peers in meaningful ways and demonstrate authority of topics. Wikis are great tools to use for group projects or generative assignments when students are asked to create a resource list, prompt, etc. (I’ve used discussion boards in onsite classes, too, especially when an interesting group discussion is cut short because of time constraints—we continue the conversation online!)

Snipping Tools/Screenshots/Screencasting:
Capturing the image of our computer screen or recording our screen is a necessary task for both instructor and student. Screencast-O-Matic is a simple tool to use for this purpose. Screenshots often give important “guideposts” to students that help them navigate the online course components. Screenshots are also useful troubleshooting tools. If a student is having technical trouble, a screenshot of the issue might allow the problem to be easily solved or at least verified by the instructor.

While not a true screencast (although it attempts to be one), I like showing my students this youtube video that demonstrates the process behind writing a simple email. It’s a fun snippet that helps us English instructors emphasize the importance of everyday rhetorical decisions.

Happy Online, Hybrid, and F2F Teaching!

Useful Tools for Teaching Online (and on campus!)
Useful Tools for Teaching Online (and on campus!) avatar

Rachèle DeMéo, MiraCosta College (French)

Useful tools can transform the experience in both teaching an online class and taking a class online.

Technology can make an online class captivating, fun and interesting.

When I was completing the Program for Online Teaching through MiraCosta College I discovered a plethora of tools–for online and on campus classes. I still absolutely love discovering new tools.

It’s important to find the RIGHT tools for your class. Since there are so many out there you have to, in some ways, “weed-through” to discover the ones that will make your online class successful.

I also believe it’s important to be consistenwith what tools you use in your classroom. Students like consistency. I believe it’s better to have less tools that are very useful and you use consistently in class rather than using a bunch of tools only once.

Here are some tools I’d recommend:

Screencast-o-matic records screen captures. I use Screencast-o-matic to create tutorials for my students. Here are some examples of some of the tutorials I’ve created for my class:

Present.me uploads your Power Points and records a video of yourself. Why do I love Present.me? Because I’ve been able to upload Power Point Presentations I already use in my on campus classes and record my lecture. It simulates what I’d teach in the classroom.

Here are some examples of videos I’ve create for my courses:

Google Drive uploads documents you’ve already created so you can share them. You can also create documents in Google Drive. Dropbox is another similar tool that uploads your documents. You can access both Google Drive and Dropbox from any electronic device.

Here are is an example of  a handout I share with my students early on in the semester:

You can also create surveys with Google. I receive feedback for my classes by asking my students to complete this survey at the end of each course.

Blackboard contains many tools I find useful for an online class. From creating surveys, tests, writing assignments, the Discussion Board, Voice Board (to record oral exams), Blackboard Collaborate. Each is worth exploring to find out what is right for your online class.

Capture d’écran 2015-04-21 à 11.34.00

YouTube may be a popular tool but also a very useful tool for instructors. I’ve found many useful videos for my students on YouTube.

Here are a couple I really like:

I really like creating movies using iMovie (Apple). If you’re unsure where to start, YouTube different tutorials to help get started. I’ve used iMovie to create videos of interviews of other French-speakers or daily scenarios. Here are some videos I’ve created using iMovie:

GoAnimate is a fascinating video maker! Create videos based on cartoon characters you choose. Use the voices available on GoAnimate or record your own. I’ve found GoAnimate helpful to show how you’d use something taught in class (for instance verbs).

Here are a couple I made:

SoundCloud records audio. Why do I like it? Because you can record using just your smartphone. A few Summers back I went camping with my family and I recorded audios for my online class while my children were napping! Since there’s an application for SoundCloud, students can listen to your audios from anywhere, pause, repeat, listen to the audio again.

I use SignUpGenius for my office hours. When students sign-up for office hours, they reserve the “spot” so others can see that that spot is taken already. They receive a notification two days prior to remind them. It’s helped me avoided having to go back and forth with emails. I also use SignUpGenius so students can sign-up for oral exams and the final oral exams.

Skype is a popular tool. I personally use it in my class for my office hours. If students can’t make it on campus, they can Skype me. I also use it for oral exams and the final oral exams.


There are so many tools out there and I believe finding the right ones for your class is essential. It’s worth trying each out so you can know which ones you prefer. Test them out and ask your students what they think.

I hope this post was helpful. Thank you for reading!

I would like to personally thank Lisa Lane for everything she taught me through the Program for Online Teaching.moi 2013

-Rachele DeMeo



Online Collaboration Tools, selecting the right tools
Online Collaboration Tools, selecting the right tools avatar

by Silvia Vazquez Paramio, MiraCosta and Saddleback Colleges (Spanish)

On the process of devising your online class, online collaboration tools are one of the corner stones, since they are the vehicle to reach the pedagogy goals for your class and have profound effect on the learning outcomes of the student (Katz, 2008).

Recently, collaborative activities have become increasingly popular in the classrooms as multi-disciplinary researches have shown that the benefits and learning gains are significantly greater than working independently, Johnson, Johnson, and Smith (1998). Nevertheless, Hershock and LaVaque-Manty (2012) point out that “Although research clearly suggests the virtues of collaborative learning, it is worth noting that these impacts depend upon how instructors implement and manage collaborative activities. Key considerations include, but are not limited to, task design, group formation, team management, and the establishment of both individual and group accountability” (Finelli, Bergom, & Mesa, 2011; Michaelson, Fink, & Knight, 1997; Oakley, Felder, Brent, & Elhajj, 2004).

Keeping these ideas in mind, online instructor should carefully design online collaborative activities to create the appropriate interaction that promotes content learning and engages student interaction. In my experience as an online instructor I consider this task quite important yet difficult. While the use of instructional technology can also considerably improve student collaboration and learning (Zhu & Kaplan, 2011), introducing and keeping up with new instructional technologies and integrating them productively into your online course, “can be challenging” (Sorcinelli, Austin, Eddy, & Beach, 2006; Zhu, Kaplan, & Dershimer, 2011, Hershock & LaVaque-Manty, 2012).

Through the years I have been improving and refining the collaborative activities and tools I use in my online classes. With the appearance of new tools and technologies, new opportunities for improvement are always coming. The variety of collaborative learning tools in the Web 2.0 is vast and varied but the decision about which collaboration tools to use should be driven by your course learning objectives more than the tool. Another aspect that you should consider is that the less variety of tools you adopt in your class the better. Introducing many different technologies can be counter productive and time consuming for your students. The research conducted by Hershock & LaVaque-Manty (2012: 7-10) narrowed some of the main factors you should consider when electing a tool to the following aspects:

  1. Start-up costs. Instructors should consider how difficult it is for them (as well as their students) to set up and learn any given tool.
  2. IT support. What technical support is available to students and instructors?
  3. Tool overload. Students can be overwhelmed by the diversity of instructional technologies in several ways. First, they may become frustrated if they have to learn how to use many different tools to complete similar tasks across courses.
  4. Is the technology accessible to students with disabilities? For example, Google Docs are accessible to some users with disabilities, primarily via keyboard shortcuts, but are not accessible to visually or dexterity impaired users who depend on screen reader or speech input technologies.
  5. Protect students and their privacy. Instructors should think about how widely information from a course or a tool will be shared.
  6. Resist the myth of “the tech-savvy student”. It is a mistake to assume that all of our students are extremely sophisticated users of contemporary technologies
  7. Develop guidelines for equitable and inclusive participation. As with all group work, instructors should consider using strategies to foster equitable participation and accountability as well as to develop guidelines for appropriate etiquette just as they do for in-class discussions.
  8. Actively foster and sustain desired student engagement. Getting students to use a tool and then keeping up with what gets produced can be a challenge. Simply making a tool available for students doesn’t mean that it will get used; students may need some incentive to use it.
  9. Have realistic expectations. Technology can fail mechanically. Therefore, it is always a good idea to have a contingency plan in place, especially if your learning activity depends heavily on a particular technology.

Keeping these premises in mind. I would like to share some of the collaborative tools that I am using on my online classes. I am a Spanish language instructor but these particular tools can be used in different disciplines.

Wikis and blogs– I use the wiki and blogs tools that come in Blackboard, which is the system management that my institution uses. Nevertheless, there are many sites to create wikis here is a list of free software platforms.  Right now, I am having great success using them for compositions, peer reviewing and editing to improve the students writing skills. By providing critical feedback to other students, they learn about vocabulary, different written styles, spelling and grammar while increasing the student motivation.

ThingLink- It is a tool that enables students and teachers to collaborate creating interactive images that can be embedded in websites, add files and/or media. There are multiple uses for ThingLink in education, here is an article that will give you an idea of the things you can do. Part of the curriculum in a language class is to learn culture while practicing the student’s language skills. With this purpose, I used ThingLink in my classes partnering 2-3 students to create an image with information about a Spanish speaking country. They have to write about the country and its culture and include videos, images and text. This is a very easy and fun tool to use. Recently, ThingLink has partner with Qzzr to combine quizzes and video. I haven’t used this feature yet, but I find it quite interesting since I could use it to create quizzes about videos in Spanish allowing me to assess the student’s language comprehension. Here is a link to a video on how to use it for quizzes.

Voicethread– It is a group audio blog for asynchronous digital conversations. It allows users to record text and audio comments about uploaded images. In the past, I have used Voicethread for my language classes but it doesn’t allow you to provide personalized and private feedback to each of your students. Most teachers use Voicethread providing a general feedback, but recently I found a video that teach you how to create different identities on voicethread allowing you to record more than one feedback message. If you are interested in using this tool I recommend you watch this video.

Zoom.us-This is definitely, one of my favorite tools for my online language classes. I use it for videoconferencing between students. While there are a wide range of tools for this purpose, like Skype or Google hangouts and even Blackboard Illuminate, but this is a particularly useful tool because it is free, it is very easy to use and most importantly because the conversation can be recorded. Right now, I pair my students to interview each other in Spanish using this tool. I ask them to record their conversation and to e-mail me the video file once they end their conversation. I am finding that this tool is increasing the speaking interaction between my students and allows me to review and assess their conversations.

Lastly, I want to share with you a video in which I compiled the tools I mentioned above.

These are the main tools that I have used with great productivity to create project-based collaborative learning. All of these tools are currently available and are free in the basic service. I hope this post helps you to successfully integrate instructional technologies in your online classes.

Silvia Vazquez Paramio- Online Spanish Instructor


Finelli, C., Bergom, I., & Mesa, V. (2011). Student teams in the engineering classroom and beyond: Setting up students for success. CRLT Occasional Paper, No. 29. Ann Arbor, MI: Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan.

Hershock, C., & LaVaque-Manty, M. (2012). Teaching in the cloud: Leveraging online collaboration tools to enhance student engagement. CRLT Occasional Paper, No. 31. Ann Arbor, MI: Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan.

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K. A. (1998). Cooperative learning returns to college: What evidence is there that it works? Change, 30(4), 26-35.

Katz, R. N. (Ed.). (2008). The tower and the cloud: Higher education in the age of cloud computing. Washington, DC: EDUCAUSE

Michaelson, L. K., Fink, L. D., & Knight, A. (1997). Designing effective group activities: Lessons for classroom teaching and faculty development. In D. Dezure (Ed.), To Improve the Academy, Vol. 16 (pp. 373-398). Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.

Nelson, M. M., & Schunn, C. D. (2009). The nature of feedback: How different types of peer feedback affect writing performance. Instructional Science, 37, 375–401.

Oakley, B., Felder, R. M, Brent, R., & Elhajj, E. (2004). Turning student groups into effective teams. Journal of Student Centered Learning, 2(1), 9-34.

Sorcinelli, M. D., Austin, A. E., Eddy, P. L., & Beach, A. L. (2006). Creating the future of faculty development: Learning from the past, understanding the present. Bolton, MA: Anker.

Zhu, E., & Kaplan, M. (2011). Technology and teaching. In M. Svinicki & W. J. McKeachie (Eds.), Teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (13th ed., pp. 229- 252). New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Cool Tools: VoiceThread
Cool Tools: VoiceThread avatar

by Bethanie Perry, MiraCosta College (History)

My goal as an online instructor is to create an engaging and dynamic classroom for my dynamic and diverse students—I assume this is the same for most instructors. Part of my desire stems from discussions with students and friends who have tried online classes and determine that the online learning environment is not for them. I should probably say, “fine, online learning is not for everyone”, but instead I usually ask why. In fact, I had this discussion just this past weekend. My friend said she preferred face-to-face classrooms because she was not so great at expressing herself in the written form, such as discussion forums. This also reminds me of a conversation I had with another student who said that most online instructors spend most of their time corresponding with students via email and therefore, written form. Therefore, as an instructor looking for ways to improve upon this seemingly one-dimensional teaching style, I am looking for ways to provide students with a more diverse experience.

There seem to be a million tools out there to use to meet this goal, but today I will focus on one, VoiceThread. What I like about this tool is it offers an alternative to the text heavy engagement with material. VoiceThread in fact offers students the ability to use voice or text to interact with material.

Voice thread is especially dynamic as users are able to create presentations using media, voice, and text. Responders can leave comments in a variety of ways as well, including their phone. While, the free version is limited in the amount of threads you can create, a Higher Ed subscription is $99 a year and the program can be integrated into an LMS; something to consider anyway. https://voicethread.com/ 

VoiceThread is also very easy to use. Create an account and then begin. You can upload documents—including images—from your computer, record videos, or upload from media sources integrated with VoiceThread.

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 11.06.08 AM

So creating the thread is dynamic. Once a VoiceThread is created, the class can comment on content using a variety of means. Not only could this be used to make discussions more interactive, but students could produce presentations using VoiceThread and receive a variety of feedback.

And of course VoiceThread is also available for your mobile device, so you can create and comment on material from your phone!IMG_0351