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)

POT Chat: Creative Online Teaching begins Monday, April 11
POT Chat: Creative Online Teaching begins Monday, April 11 avatar



  • What do we create as instructors to help our students learn?
  • What do we have our students create to show their learning?

Join the POT community starting April 10 for six weeks of reading, viewing and discussing creativity in online teaching. Each week will focus on a particular topic, and we’ll explore ideas and practices, share what works and what doesn’t, examine some current research, and engage in a community of practice. To participate, faculty should join the POT Facebook Group. Come for one week, or all six! 

April 11 – Topic 1 – Teaching online as a creative process

April 18 – Topic 2 – Creativity in Content  

April 25 – Topic 3 – Creativity and Class Discussion/Student Interaction

May 2 – Topic 4 – Creative Approaches and Assessment

May 9 – Topic 5 – Creativity in Materials

May 16 – Topic 6 – Inspiring creative online teaching

May 23 – wrap up

What’s needed to participate?

  1. Join the POT Facebook Group. There is no need to friend anyone – just send a request to join. You will be added within 48 hours.
  2. Get a Hypothes.is account, and join the POT Chat group. With this you will be able to annotate the readings with other participants. (See tutorial)
  3. Optional: Join Twitter. Hashtag for this activity and POT’s community  is #potcomm.
  4. If you’re MiraCosta faculty, be sure to keep track of your own flex hours – this is not a formal workshop.

For flex – All MiraCosta College faculty participating in POT Chat may claim flex hours via My Flex by selecting Other Activities, then Collaboration. You may claim up to 3 hours per week/topic. For documentation, you may submit Facebook screenshots or the text of your status updates in the POT Facebook group. For participants from other colleges, please check with the professional development guidelines at your school.

Please note that the POT Facebook Group and this activity may be joined by faculty and online educators from colleges around the world.

You can see the F.A.Q. here.

Pedagogical Philosophy
Pedagogical Philosophy avatar

by Joanne Carrubba

OK. I am a bit behind on posting this. Lets just admit the end of the semester, and the planning of new courses for the summer and fall got the better of me.

BUT, that being said, I would like to talk about my pedagogical philosophy. As I have gained experience and embraced online teaching, I find that my pedagogy becomes increasingly student-centered. I want to do more group work, which is challenging online, and I want to have actual discussions, not just have them write weekly essays. I want them to have to find their own information, so I tend to give bits and pieces, rather than giving all of the facts to the students. I believe firmly that giving them structure, and scaffolding to help them understand your expectations, then setting them loose to complete the assignments on their own increases their learning. Beyond that, it gives everyone in the class a better experience.

I find I do less testing in a traditional sense as well. I have always struggled with testing as a gage of actual learning. I have been assigning more projects, which, for me, as an art history and humanities instructor, prove learning in a more well-rounded sense. Yes, they can memorize enough vocab to fill in the blanks, but what if they have to do a Thinglink, with at least 10 links, 3 of which must be either audio or video, and 3 must be their own talking points?

My goal has changed from just teaching them the material I am to cover to teaching them how do exist, work, and do research in a structured online environment. I think that will be more helpful to most students down the road, as they will be working and interacting in that environment daily.

Some big issues in online teaching
Some big issues in online teaching avatar

Jenny Mackness, United Kingdom

Pedagogy is often defined as the method and practice of teaching, but is that all it is? And what do we understand by teaching? What is a teacher’s role? These are questions that have always engaged educators, but with increasing numbers of learners taking online courses in the form of massive open online courses (MOOCs), teaching online has come into sharp focus again. In my recent reading of research into MOOCs, I have noted reports that there has not been enough focus on the role of the teacher in MOOCs and open online spaces (Liyanagunawardena et al., 2013).

Years ago when I first started to teach online, I came across a report that suggested that e-learning was the Trojan Horse through which there would be a renewed focus on teaching in Higher Education, as opposed to the then prevailing dominant focus on research. It was thought that teaching online would require a different approach, but what should that approach be? Two familiar and helpful frameworks immediately come to mind.

  1. Garrison, Anderson and Archer’s Community of Inquiry Model (2000), which focuses on how to establish a social presence, a teaching presence and a cognitive presence in online teaching and learning.

Establishing a presence is obviously important when you are at a distance from your students. Over the years I have thought a lot about how to do this and have ultimately come to the conclusion that my ‘presence’ is not as important as ‘being present’. In other words, I have to ‘be there’ in the space, for and with my students. I have to know them and they me. Clearly MOOCs, with their large numbers of students, have challenged this belief, although some succeed, e.g. the Modern and Contemporary American Poetry MOOC, where teaching, social and cognitive presence have all been established by a team of teachers and assistants, who between them are consistently present.

  1. Gilly Salmon’s 5 stage model for teaching and learning online (2000) which takes an e-learning moderator through a staged approach from online access, through online socialization and information exchange, towards knowledge construction and personal development in online learning.

I have worked with this model a lot, on many online courses. Gilly Salmon’s books provide lots of practical advice on how to engage students online. What I particularly like about this model is that it provides a structure in which it is possible for learners and teachers to establish a presence and ‘be present’ in an online space, but again, MOOCs have challenged this approach, although Gilly Salmon has run her own MOOC based on her model.

In both these frameworks the teacher’s role is significant to students’ learning in an online environment, but these frameworks were not designed with ‘massive’ numbers of students in mind. The teaching of large numbers of students in online courses, sometimes numbers in the thousands, has forced me to stop and re-evaluate what I understand by pedagogy and teaching. What is the bottom line? What aspects of teaching and pedagogy cannot be compromised?

The impact of MOOCS

The ‘massive’ numbers of students in some MOOCs has raised questions about whether teaching, as we have known it, is possible in these learning environments. In this technological age we have the means to automate the teaching process, so that we can reach ever-increasing numbers of students. We can provide students with videoed lectures, online readings and resources, discussion forums, automated assessments with automated feedback, and ‘Hey Presto’ the students can teach each other and the qualified teacher is redundant. We qualified teachers can go back to our offices and research this new mechanized approach to teaching and leave the students to manage their own learning and even learn from ‘Teacherbots’ i.e. a robot.

Is there a role for automated teachers?
Recently I listened (online) to Sian Bayne’s very engaging inaugural professorial lecture, which was live streamed from Edinburgh University. Sian is Professor of Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh, here in the UK. During this lecture, Sian spent some time talking about the work she and her team have been doing with Twitterbots, i.e. automated responses to students’ tweets. The use of a ‘bot’ in this way focuses the mind on the role of the teacher. The focus of Sian’s talk was on the question of what it means to be a good teacher within the context of digital education. Her argument was that we don’t have to choose between the human and non-human, the material and the social, technology or pedagogy. We should keep both and all in our sights. She pointed us to her University’s Online Teaching Manifesto, where one of the statements is that online teaching should not be downgraded into facilitation. Teaching is more than that.


Sian and her Edinburgh colleagues’ interest in automated teaching resulted from teaching a MOOC (E-Learning and Digital Cultures – EDCMOOC), which enrolled 51000 students. This experience led them to experiment with Twitterbots. They have written that EDCMOOC was designed from a belief that contact is what drives good online education (Ross et al., 2014, p.62). This is the final statement of their Manifesto, but when it came to their MOOC teaching, they recognized how difficult this would be and the complexity of their role, and questioned what might be the limitations of their responsibility. They concluded that ‘All MOOC teachers, and researchers and commentators of the MOOC phenomenon, must seek a rich understanding of who, and what, they are in this new and challenging context’.

Most of us will not be required to teach student groups numbering in the thousands, but in my experience even the teaching of one child or one adult requires us to have a rich understanding of who and what we are as teachers. Even the teaching of one child or one adult can be a complex process, which requires us to carefully consider our responsibilities. For example, how do you teach a child with selective mutism? I have had this experience in my teaching career. It doesn’t take much imagination to relate this scenario to the adult learner who lurks and observes rather than visibly participate in an online course. In these situations teaching is more than ‘delivery’ of the curriculum. It is more than just a practice or a method. We, as teachers, are responsible for these learners and their progress.

The ethical question

Ultimately the Edinburgh team referred to Nel Noddings’ observation (Ross et al., 2014 p.7) that ‘As human beings we want to care and be cared for’ and that ‘The primary aim of all education must be the nurturance of the ethical ideal.’ (p.6). Consideration of this idea takes teaching beyond a definition of pedagogy as being just about the method and practice of teaching.

As Gert Biesta (2013, p.45) states in his paper ‘Giving Teaching Back to Education: Responding to the Disappearance of the Teacher’

…. for teachers to be able to teach they need to be able to make judgements about what is educationally desirable, and the fact that what is at stake in such judgements is the question of desirability, highlights that such judgements are not merely technical judgements—not merely judgements about the ‘how’ of teaching—but ultimately always normative judgements, that is judgements about the ‘why’ of teaching

So a question for teachers has to be ‘‘Why do we teach?” and by implication ‘What is our role?’

For Ron Barnett (2007) teaching is a lived pedagogical relationship. He recognizes that students are vulnerable and that the will to learn can be fragile. As teachers we know that our students may go through transformational changes as a result of their learning on our courses. Barnett (2007) writes that the teacher’s role is to support the student in hauling himself out of himself to come into a new space that he himself creates (p.36). This is a pedagogy of risk, which I have blogged about in the past.

As the Edinburgh team realized, we have responsibilities that involve caring for our students and we need to develop personal qualities such as respect and integrity in both us and them. This may be more difficult online when our students may be invisible to us and we to them. We need to ensure that everyone, including ourselves, can establish a presence online that leads to authentic learning and overcomes the fragility of the will to learn.

Gert Biesta (2013) has written that teaching is a gift. ‘….it is not within the power of the teacher to give this gift, but depends on the fragile interplay between the teacher and the student. (p.42). This confirms Barnett’s view, with which I agree, that teaching is a lived pedagogical relationship. Teachers should use all available tools to support learners as effectively as possible. Pedagogy is more than the method and practice of teaching and I doubt that teaching can ever be fully automated. As teachers, our professional ethics and duty of care should not be compromised.



Barnett, R. (2007). A will to learn. Being a student in an age of uncertainty. Open University Press

Biesta, G. (2013). Giving teaching back to education: Responding to the disappearance of the teacher. Phenomenology & Practice, 6(2), 35–49. Retrieved from https://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/pandpr/article/download/19860/15386

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

Liyanagunawardena, T. R., Adams, A. A., & Williams, S. A. (2013). MOOCs: a systematic study of the published literature 2008-2012. IRRODL, 14 (3), 202-227. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1455

Noddings, N. (1984). Caring. A feminine approach to ethics and moral education. California: University of California Press.

Ross, J., Bayne, S., Macleod, H., & O’Shea, C. (2011). Manifesto for teaching online: The text. Retrieved from http://onlineteachingmanifesto.wordpress.com/the-text/

Ross, J., Sinclair, C., Knox, J., Bayne, S., & Macleod, H. (2014). Teacher Experiences and Academic Identity: The Missing Components of MOOC Pedagogy. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 10(1), 57–69.

Salmon, G. (2011). E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.



The tyranny and comfort of “best practices”
The tyranny and comfort of “best practices” avatar

Lisa M. Lane, MiraCosta College

According to Wikipedia, a “best practice” is one that “has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark”. The page also notes that it is considered by some to be a business buzzword “used to describe the process of developing and following a standard way of doing things”.

Without knowing this, I became hostile to the term “best practices” about online teaching early on, for a number of reasons. It hadn’t been around that long, and I couldn’t help but notice that most of the people touting “best practices” were not, themselves, practitioners. And yet, the literature abides:

And that’s just the first few entries in Google.

So what’s wrong with all this?

Such lists, which vary from each other, can easily become prescriptive.

Taking the Penn State list as an example, everything sounds, at first, quite reasonable. Everyone would appreciate the need for the teacher to monitor submissions, but it is apparently a “best practice” to “remind them of missed and/or upcoming deadlines”. The professor is thus responsible for providing reminders, even if the course is already set up with clearly established deadlines. Perhaps I would be expected to send out text messages every week to remind them of every quiz, even if my pedagogy were designed to encourage them to monitor their own workload.6675224737_e680a2e684_m

“Provide meaningful feedback on student work”, it says, and tells us not to say “good job”. This could be interpreted in a number of ways. With my weekly assignments, it could require me to provide full textual feedback to every student every week, which would be impossible. Instead, I use a qualitative scale.

I notice that the Penn State list includes matters of college policy rather than pedagogy, all mixed in to “best practices”.

Or there’s this example:

Here the best practices are all put together into a template used by all teachers in the system, in order to reduce “the cognitive stress students report in navigating educational materials”. And yet many students want similar systems as a convenience, regardless of the learning experience the professor is trying to create. We are heading toward the “canned” course model, where academic freedom runs a distant second to standardization.

6675432873_3379c15d93_mThere is a fine line between “best practices” (meaning some good ideas that you might use), and “college x’s best practices” (the rules which you must follow). The buzz-phrase makes it sound as those these practices have been proven to be “best”, when what’s best is actually affected by instructor personality, discipline, pedagogy, technical knowledge, and other variables. I’ve seen very little agreement on what constitutes what’s best in any sort of teaching, much less online teaching.

Limited knowledge, as usual, leads to efforts to reduce the cognitive load, not of students, but of instructors. It is much easier to follow administratively-led best practices than to determine how to develop ones own online pedagogy. For many faculty, it’s more comfortable to do what you’re told than to develop your own way. We struggle with this with our students – developing inquiry-based exercises and problem-based learning can be difficult when students insist they want to just be told what they’re supposed to learn.

I think it’s wrong to encourage a limited view of teaching online, supporting it with selected (and often very small sample) “studies”, and calling it “best practices”. Doesn’t seem like good practice to me.

Images by Barry Dahl, cc Flikr

MOOCs: A Tool for Re-Imagining Our Teaching
MOOCs: A Tool for Re-Imagining Our Teaching avatar

Cris Crissman, Phd, Adjunct Assistant Professor, North Carolina State University; Independent Education Consultant

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. . . MOOCs have proven to be simply an additional learning opportunity instead of a direct challenge to higher education itself. — Preparing for the Digital University: A Review of the History and Current State of Distance, Blended, and Online Learning

. . . the debate over MOOCs helped us all think about ways to re-imagine our own teaching” (Lisa M. Lane, Follow-up to POT 2013-14, Week 21: Web-Enhanced, Hybrid, and Open Classes

I just signed up for another MOOC, “The Brain and Space,” led by Jennifer M. Groh, author of Making Space: How the Brain Knows Where Things Are. It’s a Coursera MOOC, an xMOOC where content rules (See Lisa M. Lane’s post on “Three Kinds of MOOCs” and don’t skip the comments). Understanding the content is my goal, and that of my friend who is taking the course with me. You see, he has Parkinson and is experiencing the “lost in space” phenomenon that Parkinson patients often have. Together we can work through the readings and videos to learn something about what’s happening in his brain. And we have the author of the book to guide our study and interact with.

This MOOC is the latest in a long line of MOOCs I’ve participated in (or not) over the past five years. It’s from a different universe as my very first MOOC, PLENK 2010 (Personal Learning and Network Knowledge). And my goals are totally different. PLENK 2010 was my effort to learn how the social Web worked and how I could be part of it. For someone new to blogging, webinars, and tweeting, it was scary. I remember posting my first comment and vowing that even if, in Dave White’s model, I became a resident, that I would never forget that fear of the unknown I experienced in this alien world.

That was many MOOCs ago and I feel personally responsible for giving MOOCs the high attrition rate that many see as problematic. But if you’re MOOC veteran, then you know that it’s much like going to a conference and quietly skipping out when you find the session isn’t what you’d hoped for. Life is too short to not spend your resources on what you really want.

I was drawn to PLENK 2010 like a moth to a flame. Yes, it was scary as hell but so exciting to be part of something so, well, massive, and seemingly revolutionary. So now the Preparing for the Digital University report officially recognizes MOOCs not as revolutionary but as simply new learning opportunities. I like to think that they are evolutionary (much as Derek Muller sees technology in general, “This Will Revolutionize Education”) and that they inspire new forms of learning opportunities yet to be re-imagined. For me, beyond guided learning about totally new content (The Brain and Space), and learning how to thrive in the digital ecology, one of the greatest values of MOOCs has been learning how I learn best and how I can become the teacher I want to be. MOOCs represent a powerful source of professional learning and, hence, re-imagination for our teaching.

Design for Online Courses
One of the first criteria I look for in a MOOC is space for me to learn. Open space. I once bailed on a MOOC after working through the pre-survey because the goal was me to compare my views on learning with that of the professor. What? A bit professor-centric, don’t you think? Now a pre-survey with all the participants’ responses would have been interesting and indicated openness. Openness has become the holy grail in my quest to become a better teacher and so a strong theme in my blogging — the latest of which is “Opening Up”. Though openness in learning and teaching is nothing new, I think the digital world gives us tremendous opportunities for exploring openness.

Perhaps the most burning and lasting question I took from PLENK 2010 was how to achieve the balance of openness that gives me and my students the space we need. In Dave Cormier’s work I saw a thoughtful, fearless quest for openness that inspired me to begin my own.

I see openness as the structural element that Claire Major has identified as “pathway” in her Classification Chain of Online Course Structures published in her new book, Teaching Online. I learned of Claire’s work through MiraCosta College’s Program for Online Teaching and find this model to be tremendously useful in understanding what attracts me to a course and the kind of courses I want to design. Here’s a brief video introduction to Claire’s classification chain:

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Lessons Learned
I’ve learned lessons about teaching from many MOOC leaders. From Cathy Davidson, with first her “Surprise Endings” open course (co-led with Dan Airely) and later her “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education” MOOC, I learned much about the potential of crowdsourcing with an official university class so that the products can be shared with all.

Sarah Kagan and Anne Shoemaker with their Old Globe MOOC (Growing Old Around the Globe) managed to foster a surprising degree of community, accomplished in part by having forum leaders who facilitated warmly and wisely. I’ve reflected on my Old Globe experiences using Conole’s interesting framework for mapping MOOCs across twelve dimensions.

With Jeannene Przyblyski and “A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers” I learned to admire critique as an art and to understand the value of modeling critique for peer review.

Jim Groom, Alan Levine, and Martha Burtis of the infamous DS 106 (Digital Storytelling 106), which, granted, is not a MOOC, but a community helped me experience the power of creating, of making art, within a nurturing, supportive community that is passionate about their art-making and have a good time creating together.

Beyond the MOOC

I got this note today from a colleague at UNC Capel Hill, and it got me thinking — I’d love to see some great examples of what folks are doing in the online, non-credit space. Has the MOOC grown to be the predominate format? What other approaches are working for folks? Where are the great ideas in this space?– Larry Johnson, New Media Consortium, April 17 email to listserv

The key to the MOOC (as I’ve always said, not that anyone listens) isn’t the massive scale, though it is scalable, it’s the return of education to individual autonomy, of localized knowledge production, of the integration of community-based learning with other social values (diversity, openness, etc.). (Downes, OLDaily, May 14, 2015)

I’ve blogged about my efforts to open up my open course, ECI 521, “Teaching Literature for Young Adults” often with “Opening Up the Garden” being one of the latest posts. I feel there’s much potential, especially with a topic like young adult literature that is constantly evolving with new books and new trends each year. That’s why I love it — I never facilitate the same course twice. It’s always evolving.

Could opening up bring rewards to your university students? Could it help you make a connection to the larger community? Perhaps even make a contribution? If more online courses opened up, could the university evolve as more of the public sphere rather than the walled garden?

What lessons do you bring from MOOCs? What ideas do you have for courses that might embody the MOOC principles that Downes describes while meeting the needs of your students, of your community/communities? Do you have any innovations to share with Larry Johnson and the New Media Consortium?

Have you experienced MOOCs as a way to re-imagine your own teaching?


Major, C.H. (2015). Teaching online: A guide to theory, research, and practice. https://jhupbooks.press.jhu.edu/content/teaching-online

MOOC List. An aggregator of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) from different providers. https://www.mooc-list.com/

New Media Consortium. Larry Johnson (in May 14, 2015 email) confirmed that he has received many responses to his request for innovative formats in online, non-credit space and that he will share soon. http://redarchive.nmc.org/about/board-directors/larry-johnson-chief-executive-officer

OLDaily. A daily newsletter from Stephen Downes covering/uncovering the world of online learning. http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/login.cgi?action=Register

Program for Online Teaching. Led by Lisa M. Lane, MiraCosta College. http://mccpot.org/wp/