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)

Culture skills – reflections on the online Umwelt
Culture skills – reflections on the online Umwelt avatar

Ross Kendall, Waikato Institute of Technology, New Zealand

In 2013, using WordPress, I put ‘Critical Thinking’ online as a semester-long elective in Wintec’s Bachelor of Media Arts (BMA). Untitled1This second-year paper, using a blended learning/flipped classroom approach, followed my popular ‘Introduction to Psychology’ and attracted a large number of students, so that it was offered in parallel as two identical papers. The approach had immediate benefits:

  • First, students compared, collaborated, combined and reflected on their work across the classes,
  • Second, students were encouraged to comment on blogs from their fellows in the other class and frequently did so,
  • Three voluntary Saturday classes (9am-2pm), offered as enhancement, attracted full attendance and engendered much spontaneous fun, new friendships and laughter and creativity – learning at its best. These Saturdays were festive occasions, with pizza ordered in, impromptu discussions about positionalities in the NZ context, and imaginative presentations at the end of each session.

My aims in the class were pretty much the same since I first began teaching in higher ed. I’ve tried to develop and apply strategies that connect the autonomy of persons and their communities with the objectivity of facts about the world and the systems within which people operate. The operative understanding is that immersion in particular learning environments should take account of the constitution of persons as both biophysical and sociocultural organisms in fields of relationships. On this view – informed by the theories of Engeström, Mezirow, Uexküll, Gibson, Esbjörn-Hargens and by Lacanian psychoanalysis – profound learning occurs, and attributes of learners emerge, under particular conditions, through certain processes and at different levels, in a wonderfully spiral looping.

The point is to conceive learners as individual loci of creative growth within continually unfolding phenomenological spaces of varying human and (other) environmental relationships.

What does this mean exactly? For the learner, it means that her individual beliefs need to be Untitled2connected to appropriate skills practice, developed by knowledge of her cultural and ecological milieu, performed in a structured environment of her current surroundings and at a level consonant with her level of ability and potential achievement. Conscious perception of these things involves the acquisition of narratives grown by a deep engagement with, and understanding of one’s identity: students need to be able to tell their own stories; they need to tell what others’ behaviours imply, to tell what sensory experiences signify, and to understand that understanding does not end at the skin’s boundary.

Untitled3 Indigeneity is significant in this respect: it is essential, I believe, to know and to be able to perform the rituals and traditions of one’s heritage. For me, claiming descent from colonialist Pākehā (Southern England) and defiant Māori (Tūhoe), it means not simply possessing Untitled4knowledge of my genealogical lineage but also being able to enact the customs and practices of both cultures and being familiar with the vastly different landscapes. It is important to me to see through two sets of eyes, to speak both languages, to assert my ancestral homes as London and Ruatoki. 

Big expectations for an online course, considering the considerable diversity among students, especially for those who lack a well-defined sense of their culture, ethnicity, class, culture or ways of being! Especially considering that the course demands crackling debate, sizzling intellectual fervour, outrageous creativity, wondrous collegiality and large dollops of fun! Especially considering that New Zealand currently boasts the world’s grossest per-capita pollution output, worst intimate partner violence (IPV) records, hideous child poverty statistics and greatest inequality movement over the last decade.


Under a tough (some might say brutal) neo-liberalist government, the institution is encouraged to market its programmes aggressively overseas, and accordingly, in my classes, the proportion of International to home-grown students runs at about 80:20%. Consequently, the imperative to provide safe and encouraging activities for students to engage and reshape their experiences in the development of new meanings is paramount. The students in the course, I hoped, would engage in the exercises in ways that enable them not only to tell the various accounts of who they are by threading activities in the Western theoretical, rational tradition to their customary affective and signifying practices but also in ways that provoke a creative confidence in constructing new knowledge and effecting change in their lives. In Saussurean (1959: 102ff ) terms, I wanted a mapping of systems of differences on the plane of concepts to a system of differences on the plane of physical events and objects; in Gibsonian terms, (1979:129) I tried to engender an awareness of what the social and physical environment offers as affordances. In these processes, the collective is enhanced and experience is generated, offering greater meaning and clarity. A poetics of learning, you might say.

Phew! But maybe not so hard. When students are given permission to freely engage in new experiences, their ‘‘becoming’ [ is like] a creative advance into novelty’ (Whitehead, 1929: 28). So exercises included sociological field-work (conducting an audit of household energy costs, the ‘making-stUntitled6 range’ by performing unusual activities in public spaces, the examination of unconscious racism in the academy, the revelation of dressing as the other gender); analyses of ideological frameworks in mainstream media, the Western family, traditional logical and non-traditional reasoning, deviance, corporatisation; a pair investigation into a local environmental concern; and debates. Some of these exercises were conducted online, others required students to self-organise into groups of particular numbers and some (e.g. debates) were held in class.

The course was configured thus:

  • online journal (8 entries and 5 commentaries on other students’ work: 40%)
  • research essay (30%)
  • multi-choice test (10%)
  • debate (20%)

Lectures were recorded and placed on line as Screenflow videos with accompanying slides, readings and review questions. VoiceThread was used twice as a synchronic strategy: it proved too unwieldy for large numbers and was discontinued. The test was conducted online, available for an hour on a particular evening.

What were the positive outcomes? WordPress is very user-friendly and feedback indicated that students greatly enjoyed the freedom to engage in learning at times that suited them, that the exercises were stimulating and fun, that the opportunity to engage with and learn about other cultures (one requirement of group work) was exciting and led to the formation of new friendships, that the anthropological approach was one that could usefully be incorporated into other courses, that they wished other classes were like this … I welcomed the opportunity to allow learners to generate emotional valencies that the usual classroom approach ignores.

The downside? A few (International) students wanted more structure and direction. Novices’ practical engagement and attention to new experiences was difficult to assess and monitor; nor could I determine the extent of learners’ involvement with, and learning from one another. It was impossible to identify the different levels of ability and involvement that makes teaching so much a mentoring role. (I can only hope that behaviour rose to a level where agents felt they were achieving something useful to add to their repertoire and that all learned some appropriate strategies to use in relationships with people and objects in the environment.) The work required was significantly more than the f2f classroom style. It cost a fair bit of money. And of course, I felt a keen sense of lack of control, but I’m getting over that.

Untitled7 Will I do it again? I think online learning depends on the nature of the learning, the expectations and commitment of students and the competence and desire of the teacher. In many ways, the anonymity and autonomy of the Internet allows for a degree of intimacy and engagement that is often overlooked in the classroom. Furthermore, on a personal note, I live in paradise, a 35 minute drive from work and it’s wonderful to work in my office with the view above and not be in the city five days a week! Moreover, I was prohibited from further use of WordPress (the less inviting Moodle is the institution’s preferred platform). But online delivery lends itself so much to contemporary students’ desire for meaningful and interesting educational experiences, so yes, I’ll continue, perhaps using a flipped classroom approach, where tutor and students meet fortnightly, in class or one-to-one. Meantime, I’m working on those aspects of integral andragogy that I find so difficult to elicit via the Web. Ka kite ano!


Student Retention in Online Classes: More Questions Than Answers
Student Retention in Online Classes: More Questions Than Answers avatar

By Laura Paciorek, MiraCosta College (Child Development)


Introduction: Student Retention

Student retention has always sparked a lot of questions for me and for many faculty with whom I have discussed the issue.  Why do some students finish a class and others do not?  Why is it that some sections of the same classes, even those taught by the same instructor, have different student retention rates than others?  What can an instructor do, if anything, to help with student retention in classes?  Should we be concerned about student retention or student success?  Are success and retention the same thing or are they different?  Whose issue is student retention: the student, the instructor, the institution, or some combination of the three?

Throughout my conversations with fellow faculty members and administrators regarding the topic of student retention, many theories have surfaced.  In preparing for this blog post, I decided to do a bit of research into the literature on student retention in online classes.  As a whole, my research has led to more questions than answers. 

I reviewed a total of six articles on online student retention, each on a totally different aspect related to retention.  I tried to find some of the most recent articles on the topic that were available to me.  The six articles found have all had a different focus and approach.  I will briefly describe the articles here:

Article 1

Leeds, E., Campbell, S., Baker, H., Ali, R., Brawley, D. & Crisp, J. (2013). The impact of  student retention strategies: an empirical study.  International Journal of  Management in Education, 7(1/2), 22–43. doi: 10.1504/IJMIE.2013.050812

This article by Leeds, Campbell, Baker, Ali, Brawley, and Crisp (2013) was particularly interesting to me because it looks directly at what instructors do to help with retention and whether or not those strategies were successful.  The study was empirical with an experimental and control group.  The focus was on whether or not the following strategies would increase student retention: video orientations, welcome e-mails, personal phone calls, e-mails of course contracts, course/syllabus quizzes, start here documents, welcome to student services activities, post-introductions, ice breakers, team projects, and small group discussions.

The finding: There was only about an 0.85% difference in retention for the treatment and control groups (Treatment = 70.37% retention, Control = 69.14% retention).

Does this mean that what an instructor does to help with retention does not matter?  Is there some other issue with the study that may have impacted the results?

Because there is a lot more to the article than what is listed here, I encourage you to read it yourself and see what questions and answers it brings up for you.


Article 2

Britto, M. & Rush, S. (2013). Developing and implementing comprehensive student support services for online students. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 17(1), 29-42. Retrieved from http://sloanconsortium.org/publications/jaln_main

This article by Britto and Rush (2013) suggests that “retention” is both completion and success.  The main point of this article is to describe what one college system did to address online student retention.  The Lone Star College system, in the Houston area, created a Comprehensive Online Student Support Services Model to attempt to provide comparable services to online students as are received by face-to-face students and to increase completion and success rates.

The following services were described in detail as a part of what was offered to students: technical support, an early alert system, advising services, case management advising, readiness assessments, student orientations, tutoring, new student orientations, and e-newsletters.  For individuals interested in institutional responses to retention, this article provides information that could be useful.  The authors are still looking at outcomes related to the model.  However, they noted that face-to-face students are requesting to access online advising because of efficiency of model (p. 39).

Article 3

Tobin, T. J. (2014).  Increase online student retention with Universal Design for Learning. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 15(3), 13-24. Retrieved from http://www.infoagepub.com/quarterly-review-of-distance-education.html

Tobin’s (2014) article provides information for instructors who are interested in implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles, which are suggested to increase student retention.  Tobin comments that it is helpful to consider access for students with disabilities, but that UDL strategies could help all students, including those using mobile devices more to access classes. 

“UDL is an approach to the creation of learning experiences that incorporates multiple means of engaging with content and people, representing information, and expressing skills and knowledge” (p. 14).  The article outlines five strategies and provides ideas for what instructors can do in the next 20 minutes, 20 days, and 20 months to incorporate UDL into teaching practices.  Resources are provided in the article.


Article 4

Russo-Gleicher, R. J. (2013). Qualitative Insights into Faculty Use of Student Support Services with Online Students at Risk: Implications for Student Retention. Journal Of Educators Online, 10(1).  Retrieved from http://thejeo.com/.

Russo-Gleicher’s (2013) article provides the results of 16 in-depth qualitative interviews with faculty who teach online.  The focus of the interviews was on how faculty use student support services in the classes they teach.  A variety of approaches were discovered.  While some instructors may refer students to support services, other instructors may not.  The conclusion of the article included three recommendations that would attempt to create more of a consistent approach to using student support services.  The suggestions were to provide training for faculty that includes information on prevention of attrition, insure that online referral forms are available, include details in the faculty handbook about student support services, and have the e-learning department reach out to faculty with student contact information.


Article 5

Cochran, J. D., Campbell, S. M., Baker, H. M., & Leeds, E. M. (2014). The role of student characteristics in predicting retention in online courses. Research in Higher Education, 55, pp. 27-48.  doi: 10.1007/s11162-013-9305-8

This article by Cochran, Campbell, Baker, and Leeds (2014) looked at student characteristics and whether or not they were correlated with student retention.  Out of the several factors considered, recommendations were made. First, policies and guidelines should be developed “to provide increased support for and monitoring of students at the lower level, e.g. freshmen and sophomores, who are enrolled in online courses” (p. 46).  Also, policies and guidelines should be developed “for students with lower cumulative GPAs (<3.0) that enroll in online courses and in programs with more analytical or technical content, such as those in business, science and math” (p. 46).  Those involved in online education are encouraged to “be cognizant of gender differences in withdrawal rates in field that have predominant gender roles as those in the minority are more likely to withdraw” (p. 46).  Lastly, institutions should “follow-up with students when they first withdraw from an online class to mitigate future withdrawals” (p. 46).

Article 6

Hart, C. (2012). Factors associated with student persistence in an online program of study: A review of the literature. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 11(1), 19-42. Retrieved from http://www.ncolr.org/

If there is any one article to be read, this article by Hart (2012) might be it.  Although it was published in 2012, it contains a comprehensive review of literature pertaining to “student persistence.”  The results of the literature review were categorized into the following areas: persistence as a phenomenon, facilitators of persistence, quality of interactions and feedback, satisfaction and relevance, self-efficacy and personal growth, social connectedness or presence, support, and barriers to persistence.

Facilitators of persistence that were reviewed were college status, graduating term, comfort with online coursework, flexibility, asynchronous format, time management, goal commitment, GPA, quality of interactions and feedback, satisfaction and relevance, self-efficacy, personal growth, self-motivation, social connectedness or presence, and support.  Barriers that were reviewed were auditory learning style, basic computer skills, college status and graduating term, difficulty in accessing resources, isolation and decreased engagement, lack of computer accessibility, non-academic issues, and poor communication. As is stated in the article’s abstract, “factors associated with student persistence in an online program include satisfaction with online learning, a sense of belonging to the learning community, motivation, peer, and family support, time management skills, and increased communication with the instructor” (p. 19).


Conclusion: Student Retention

After reviewing the above six articles, I have been left with more questions than answers.  In fact, the questions listed in the introduction still stand.  With so much time and so many resources being invested into techniques that are meant to improve student retention, it would be useful to insure that the techniques themselves are improving student retention.  However, it might be that a particular practice is not proven to increase retention, but it still creates a more positive learning atmosphere for online students.  If that is the case, the practice may still be warranted.  More research is likely needed in this area to learn what does and does not work.

What are your theories?  Have you done your own investigation into this issue?  If so, it would be great to hear more and continue this conversation about student retention, success, and persistence.

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