Saturday, January 22, 2011

To Online or Not to Online, Part 6

Just a little tip I learned by accident. Because of the snow here, I have yet to meet my Monday only hybrid public speaking class. I used a discussion board (asynchronous) to get the students talking about the subject of public speaking and their experiences. It really helped. They were honest and supportive of one another, and since they will have to give a short introductory speech the first day (finally), they feel more settled.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Teaching Tip #26

Is a number of small assignments better than a few heavily-weighted ones?

It depends on the level of student (level of preparedness), the discipline, and the learning outcomes. However, all things considered, it seems wiser to not "put all the eggs in one basket." When I hear a project is worth 50% in a freshman class, I cringe. The freshmen I know can't handle such a thing.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Flexibility Revisited

We met for class three days, then a powerful storm closed the college for four days, and we have Monday off for the Martin Luther Kig, Jr., holiday. More than ever flexibility will be necessary. Flexibility assumes a posture about life, a "I'll do the best I can but you know, I just don't control very much that goes on anyway" attitude. Perhaps flexibility works in inverse proportion to how important you think you are. If so, I must have thought myself very important in the past, because I wasn't very flexible!

However, we will be trying to get caught up all semester!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Asperger's Revisited: Input

I'm doing research on teaching Asperger's students in communication classes. I found this post on the Christianity Today website blog Hermeneutics, which has a good article about the church and persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders. I found this post from a person with AS very important; I hope I am not breaking any copyright laws here.

Without exception, every discussion I've seen of autistics in church is about low-functioning autistic children and teenagers, and is directed at their parents or at other adults in their lives. What happens to these autistics when they grow up--do they grow out of it? Do they die? Or are they institutionalized, never to darken a church door again?
And what about high-functioning autistics? I am an adult with Asperger's syndrome, i.e. a high-functioning autistic adult. I go to church, humanly speaking, of my own accord. I have yet to see anything, in books or the Christian media, that addresses the problems faced by Christian Aspies.
We hear all the time that family and friends are everything, the only thing in life of real value. We as Christians know that Christ is everything, but we are still told that it is in our personal relationships that the Christian life is lived out. But what if you don't have any social skills or social life to speak of? And what if you have a pretty good idea of what you're missing, and are lonely? Has anyone thought about that? And has anyone thought of speaking to us, rather than our relatives?
In asking if your church is open to autism, please ask if it is open to Asperger's syndrome.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Teaching Tip #24

Environment matters. I remember back in the 70s when it was so radical to put the classroom in a circle or let the students (high school) sit on the floor. That was the beginning of casualness in education as the norm. Comfort=effective teaching. Now people think they can't learn unless they are comfortable, but comfort can be as distracting as noncomfort.

Not to say we should make our students uncomfortable; we should create an environment that facilitates attentiveness and focus and not take it for granted. We really can't take any thing for granted anymore.

How is that done? Well, you can list a lot of rules on your syllabus, or lead them in what I consider a fake exercise in "you make up the rules." Or you can just explain that there's a reason for expectations of behavior (minimization of distractions, for example) and be honest with them. I think there's a place for disclosure!

Teaching Tip #25

This from a Sunday School teaching seminar.
What is the worst teaching method?
The one you use all the time.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Fall Semester vs. Spring

Is there a difference in starting classes in the fall and the spring? Yes, I think there is a world of difference, as a teacher, at least. For one, you are starting in the dark, so to speak: I leave for work in the dark and usually get home at dusk. The students seem less eager, more tired, maybe. They seem to have more financial problems, and more financial aid ones. Since I teach freshmen most of the time, I have students in the spring who are more aware of the system and I don't have to explain as much. Of course, I also have fewer classes (although not this semester) because we teach on a 5-4 schedule. (But at our college many teach overloads). We also get a spring break (too early) in the first week of March.

What other differences? Comments would be appreciated.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

To online or not to online, part 5

One of the primary decisions that an online course designer/teacher must make has to do with the overall structure of the course. I see it two ways:

1. Thematically
2. Chronologically or unit/module-driven

Thematically would be to create folders (or sections) of the course based on typical course issues. A folder/section on paper/speech/project/homework assignments; a folder/section on study or reading guides for tests; a folder/section for notes/PowerPoints/online lectures/ recordings; a folder/section for rubrics, etc. This has the value of guiding a student to what he or she wants. The student knows he or she is looking for homework, so to the homeowrk file it is.

2. The chronological or unit/module method would be based on the content of the course. For example, in my speech class we have four speeches, with lecture content oriented toward each one. So I have four folders, each containing all the assignment specs, rubrics, samples, and lectures related to that speech. However, I have a separate test folder for study guides.

The discipline of the course and other factors will determine which way you go. However, consistency and clarity are the main criteria. Students have to be able to find things easily, and the course designer/teacher should do a midterm evaluation to see if the students are able to find things logically and quickly.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

To Online or Not to Online, continued

Picking up where I left off before Christmas. We are still in the course design phase:

1. Be sure to consult with the ADA coordinator at your institution to be sure that your class is ADA compliant or that the institution even has any policy on this. It should, of course--SACS or other accrediting agencies will flag it. My point is that you should be aware.

2. Similarly, be sure you know about how the class will be evaluated, either for institutional research purposes or for your tenure and promotion track. Again, this policy should be in place at your institution. Do the students fill out an online form? Is it confidential/anonymous? Does the form take into account that the course is delivered partially or fully online, which makes some of the typical questions on SET irrelevant or inapplicable?

My point here is that you should know what you are getting into and design the class backward, and to be honest, if you are going to be "graded" for the class' design, you should design it based on the criteria of the "grading."

3. Decide how media rich and how many of the functions of the learning management system really are worth using/bothering with. Online Chat? Discussion board? Assignment dropbox? The question is not just how much time and effort you want to spend on them, but how useful they are in meeting the outcomes of the class, how easy it will be for the students to learn it (especially in terms of bandwidth issues), how time-consuming it will be for students, and what it might mean for your online office hours.

4. As you decide to use these different functions, you will have to have explicit or implicit rubrics for the students. For example, what constitutes correct or adequate use of the discussion board? I tell my students the post to the questions must be 100-150 words in length, composed in Word so that it is well-written (but not necessarily perfect), relevant and on point to the prompt, and that they must respond to a certain number of their peers, in order to get the "points."

5. Finally, for today, and this I have not done well myself, set boundaries about your availability. If you aren't going to respond after 5:00, don't and make it clear. I tell my students I don't touch a computer on Sunday--I celebrate Sabbath rest from technology as well as other forms of work. But I am very good about responses at other times. This 24/7 nonsense has to stop. I was discussing it with a colleague yesterday. She tells her students, "If I showed up to your workplace at 9:00 on Sunday, would you be there? Probably not. So why should you expect me to be at the computer all the time?"