Tag Archives: learning

The Value of Teacher Presence Early and Often in Online Courses


creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by La Cinnamon

I recently was given the opportunity to assist as a guest facilitator for part of Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education professional development course on developing and teaching online high school courses. The course is off to a cracking start with an impressive group of teachers.

One of the questions posed to the teacher/students was pick a strategy from the article “A Dozen Strategies for Improving Online Student Retention” in Faculty Focus and share how they might use it. The question got me reflecting. Here is my response:

Having taught online classes for some years now. I think it is always a good thing to track back and review material that addresses effective strategies and approaches. Teaching, online, face-to-face, or in any capacity, truly is an endeavor where we are always chasing mastery.

What I will share from my experience as both a students and teacher in classes that are either entirely online or blended in some capacity is the critical aspect of item number two from the list – “Never underestimate the importance of instructor presence.” I cannot stress enough the power and necessity of understanding that truth.

In fact, I would go even further and suggest that the importance of instructor presence is never more powerful than the early stages of the course. Considering that you, as the instructor, are never seen physically in an all online course. Early and frequent interactions are paramount. It pays huge dividends over the duration of the course.

First, by responding quickly and substantively, you are setting the tone, expectations, and norms of how the course will function. You begin the course modeling the kind of interactions you hope to see. Moreover, be completely transparent and direct about that. Provide feedback that articulates the very elements you hope to see. Good teachers do this in face-to-face classes as a matter of course. However, it is even more important in the online environment. It is linked with time one, “Make a good first impression,” but carries much further in the absence of a physical presence.

Unless you are working in an open course with dozens, hundreds, or more students, be deliberate about responding to every single student in the early going. You may not be able to respond to every assignment, but be sure to provide feedback of some kind to every student on at least one assignment. And I am talking about individualized, thoughtful feedback, not canned, auto-response type stuff. Front-load your effort for the first few weeks. The impact cannot be overstated and students really respond to it. When done in a supportive way, it energizes and motivates students going forward.

Once you have established your presence and seen the kinds of activity, responses, and interactions you are looking to see, then gradually release and find ways to encourage greater student-to-student interactions. They will need that modeled and coached for them too, but you will have already done some of that groundwork.

Even in hybrid or blended courses, the same dynamics are at play. In fact, I would submit that if you do not approach the online component of a blended class in this way, the implicit message is that this forum is not as valued or important as what we will do when we meet in person. Admittedly, blended courses pose a number of slightly different challenges, not the least of which is finding the balance of how best to use face-to-face time versus online time.

No matter the circumstance, I would submit that a strong, early teacher presence in online or blended courses is the single most valuable strategy you have at your disposal to steer the course and students towards the kind of results and goals you hope to achieve.

Having just begun teaching one of my online courses anew with the semester turnover, I am reminded of just how important all of this remains. I have been logging considerably more hours in the discussion threads in the first couple of weeks. It simply makes a huge difference – invaluable.

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Listening to the Other #ETMOOC Couros

Jumping into last night’s ETMOOC session “Introduction to becoming a Networked Administrator” (item T1S6) was fascinating. I have often joked, “Being an administrator is a job that involves everything I hate about education and nothing I like.” Yet, after listening to George Couros‘ presentation, he has me reconsidering that notion slightly. While I still doubt I have much interest in becoming an administrator, Couros got me much more interested in administration. More than anything, I can say without question George Couros is definitely the kind of administrator I would want to work for as a teacher.

For one, the fact that Couros is a principal and blogs regularly, already puts him in elite company. For an administrator to commit to writing their evolving thinking and beliefs in such a public and transparent way is striking in its courage. In an almost subversive way, by making his thinking public Principal Couros is reaching out to others, demonstrating his capacity to connect, building relationships, and inviting others to join him. By definition, that behavior is a kind of leadership.

What’s more, I would bet that his blogging ameliorates a lot of suspicion, ignorance, and fear that can take root in any school’s staff. Of course, those qualities might never be able to eradicate completely from a teaching staff, but it strikes me as being a significant step in an opposite more positive, pro-active direction. Again, the behavior is a means of leadership, blazing a path towards the kind of practitioners that he would like to see in his school.

Something like a post referenced in the session, “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom,” goes a long way in directing his staff, as well as echoing a declaration of belief and values that he brings to his school and district. That is powerful communication. As a teacher, I know I would appreciate an administrator writing something like this as a blogpost, which is considerably more personal and human, and not some district-level document filled with educational Engfish (Ken Macrorie‘s term for something that looks like English but isn’t).

Another post like “5 Characteristics of a Change Agent,” also referenced in the session clearly illustrates the kind of people Couros is hoping work in his building. Even better, he is walking the walk, not just talking the talk. His blogging is a clear indicator of that. As I routinely tell my English students, “You can’t write about what you don’t know.” Of course, Couros doesn’t know it all, and in some instances may even be writing his way into a deeper understanding. The point is, however, he is doing just that, engaged in a deepening of his own learning and understanding. Again, a principal blogging in this way is an educational leader. He doesn’t need to inform his staff of his position, as I have heard more than one principal assert in my career, his example speaks for itself.

The whole session was just another excellent even that has been part of the ETMOOC experience. More than anything, it drove to further my thinking about just how much I think administrative “leadership” in education, at least in the States, is subject to question. In fact, I would submit it is a group getting an almost complete pass in the edreform donnybrook that has broken out all over the media. As the press and politically connected, monied interests take turns pounding on teachers unions and teachers in general, I rarely see any notice being paid to administrations with the exception of the much vaunted “turn-around” agents. Meanwhile, I observe administrations turning over at a rate that rivals that of teachers leaving the profession.

Something tells me that a principal like George Couros is more committed for the long term. My biggest fear if he were my principal is that he would be a victim of his own success and called higher and higher up the administrative ladder, although that wouldn’t be all bad.

I need some more time to stew on Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning session.

Learning I Value: A Video Product & Process

As part of MOOCMOOC one of the tasks was to make a video about the kind of learning we value most. It took a longer than I hoped for me to be able to do it, but I still wanted to do it, regardless. I reframed things a little, although that is kind of the point often, now isn’t it?

I had to steal minutes here and there to put it together, but once I was able to get a good run at the work things started to come together quickly. While the task allowed for more time, keeping things short and simple is always a challenge. I was trying to cut it down to a single minute but that would have actually taken longer, and I didn’t want any more delays.

In the spirit of another MOOC, DS106, here is the method behind the making. Made all with an iPad, tried playing around here a little. I started just kind of playing around and sketching some ideas in the app Paper 53, just thinking really. While playing, it occurred to me that that rough, sketched look could work on its own.

From there it was a matter of shooting a little bit of footage. I opted for some quick and dirty B-Roll type stuff that just came to mind. Being primarily for the MOOCMOOC community of online collaborators, it seemed appropriate to I include myself with a basic A-Roll talking head shot.

Lately, I have been opting for the app Pinnacle, formerly Avid Studio, to edit video over iMovie. Using Pinnacle allows for dropping in a separate audio track for narration over the B-Roll with relative ease. It is a small but significant feature that iMovie does not have.

Finally, since I mention jazz, metaphorically, it seemed almost necessary that I drop some in to score a portion. For speed sake and because my iPad’s memory is practically full, rather than download something and try to cut it, made something quick in GarageBand. It is kind of amazing how someone with little to no musical talent, like myself, can string together a handful of instrumental loops, tinker a bit, and create something that isn’t half bad.

The real trick is getting the audio out of GarageBand and into Pinnacle. As expected, Apple doesn’t necessarily play well with others, especially if they have a competing product. So it is a couple of touches to export audio from GarageBand into iMovie, which is actually what I did. Then exporting the audio from iMovie, unfortunately as a video file, allowed me to kick it into the Camera Roll, where I could easily pull it into Pinnacle. At that point, I could use it as just another audio track. A little fine tuning and I had my own original score. A minor workaround that I thought was worth sharing.