Thursday, April 24, 2008

Reliance on visual cues during webcasting

Today, I had another webcast experience as a presenter. I have done them before (both as a presenter and a participant), but it has been a little while since I have presented during a webcast...and I had forgotten...

The webcast was in support of a recent article we (Jackie Dobrovolny, Dave Young, and I) had published in Innovate (a good journal for people interested in online education). [Note: The article is on our use of Kolb's model of experiential learning in the eLearning MA/certificate program at UCD.] Innovate asks authors to participate in a webcast in support of their articles, sharing a presentation and facilitating a discussion. It is a fantastic idea, and one I think more journals should consider because I think audiences/readers crave opportunities to discuss the work (and, in my mind, it recognizes the criticality of social context). Anyway, I love the idea and think it serves its purpose well. [Note: By the way, Innovate has all of these webcasts archived. I have watched/listened to many of them, and found them to be a good source of information...even though I wasn't able to participate in real-time. You will need to register (for both the journal and the archived or live webcasts), but it is free. Also, Jackie and I participated in another webcast of our live presentation at the Innovation 2008 conference, in case there is interest.]

So, it caught me off guard yet again today when I was reminded of how much I rely on the visual cues of the audience. People nodding, taking notes, talking to a neighbor, or even glaring at me with arms crossed across their bodies...those cues give me information that encourages me, informs me, and often redirects me.

I am not a good multitasker. So, my other challenge -- one commonly expressed by people working in synchronous technology-mediated environments -- is that I wanted to deliver a smooth presentation while at the same time attend to the high volume of text-based comments and questions from the audience. There was a ton of interaction (potential and realized) from the audience of around 25 folks. All with great contributions. Yet, I was simply unable to track it all. In fact, there was one point where I completely lost track of where I was in the presentation...something that never happens to me in a face-to-face live setting.

Where does this experience leave me? I am not going to give up on webcasts, that I know. Again, I think there is a craving for synchronous connection, and there is power in that. So, I want to add more webcast opportunities to my online courses, and plan to use them to deliver professional development through UCD's Center for Faculty Development starting in the fall. But, I do have to deal with these two issues -- (1) my reliance of visual cues from the audience, and (2) attending to audience comments and questions. The second issue is much easier to deal with. I have had great luck with asking a colleague to step in and act as moderator during a webcast. The moderator can completely focus on the text traffic, and make sure that I address questions and respond to comments.

In terms of the first issue, I have come up with two angles I will pursue: setting ground rules, and structuring the presentation to support time for frequent interaction.

Setting ground rules:
  • Demonstrate how participants can engage in side conversations using the "private" feature so that they do not distract the entire audience (or presenter).

  • If there is no moderator involved, ask the audience to hold their questions and comments until the designated times throughout the presentation.

  • If there is a moderator, explain to the audience that the moderator will track comments and questions, try to categorize them into themes, and present them to you during the designated times throughout the presentation.

  • Share a set of emoticons that the audience can use to let you know whether they are in agreement, disagreement, want more, want less, and so on.

Structuring the presentation:
  • If possible, collect potential questions and comments from participants in advance of the webcast. This gives you time to incorporate content that you may not have been planning to address.

  • Make sure there is time before the presentation begins for people to check their technology and say hello.

  • Share the ground rules. Ask if the group wants to change any of the rules, and adjust as appropriate. (If it is possible to send this information out in advance, great. But, review them at the start of the webcast so they are fresh.)

  • If you are interested in collecting some pre-presentation data from folks (to make sure you will address questions, and to get them engaged in the topic), use the polling feature of your webcast tool. For example, the webcast today was in Breeze, which has a polling tool.

  • Set up the presentation so that you are delivering content in 3-5 minute chucks.

  • Between each chunk, open it up for questions. Make sure the time is monitored -- say, only 3-5 minutes for questions.

  • Leave time at the end for a lot more discussion. (I have found that presenters so often fill up their allotted time with their own talking, leaving no time for the audience to participate. And, let's face it, they often do want to participate.)

  • Use the polling feature to check for understanding throughout the presentation. This is a quick way to get feedback without waiting for a large group of people to type in their responses. Plus, it is something that can be set up in advance of the webcast.

  • If appropriate, provide a way for you and the audience to keep the discussion going after the webcast using an asynchronous communication tool (e.g., threaded discussion).

Wish me luck -- I have another webcast coming up, and will certainly put some of these strategies into play.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Design guidelines and standards for eLearning

Always looking for tools to use when considering the quality and effectiveness of my eLearning course design and teaching, here are links to a few resources I have found quite useful:

National Standards for Online Courses and Online Teaching from the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL)

Rubric for Online Education from CSU Chico

Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Establishing a Quality Review for Online Courses in EDUCAUSE Quarterly

Monday, April 21, 2008

Some guidelines for discussion participation

There are a lot of examples of discussion guidelines out there...this is a good thing because learners and faculty are looking for ways to assess discussion participation. Here are a few guidelines -- a Top 10 -- I typically share with students (in conjunction with my use of inspiration/karma points, as described in Karma (or inspiration) points for discussion assessment, and discussion ground rules) --
  1. Be direct: Share comments, ideas, and suggestions directly with classmates.

  2. Be specific: When praising or commenting on others' contributions, avoid being vague. Be clear about what aspect (excerpt, portion, etc.) of the classmate's comment you are responding to. Describe how the classmate's contribution helped you understand the topic or think about the topic in a different way.

  3. Be non-attributive: Do not describe a classmate's attributes but rather describe your experience of her or his contribution – the effect that her or his contribution had on you. Use “I statements” that convey your experience of the other person’s efforts.

  4. Share knowledge and ideas:
    • Applications and examples from the workplace and community
    • Great tips and tricks
    • Unique resources such as useful website, books, blogs, articles, workshop information and/or technical work groups etc.
    • Relevant personal and professional experiences
    • Strategies, tools and problem solving skills

  5. Encourage vision: Present unique, insightful ideas, perspectives, and questions that are thought provoking and promote further discussion. Encourage new ways of thinking that makes the group see something in a new way. Disseminate new information and knowledge about the topic being discussed. Demonstrate your ability to see beyond the obvious.

  6. Contribute to group's sense of well-being and harmony: Be open to others' comments and ideas. Make statements that support and honor differences. Share thoughts and opinions with others without judgment or prejudice. Make comments that help create a healthy learning environment and inspire people to want to learn more. Make statements that mediate differences and find commonality. Make statements that lift classmates' spirits. When appropriate, share comments that draw the conversation back to the focus of the discussion topic.

  7. Demonstrate knowledge of the topic: Contribute to discussions by making comments that are insightful and informed (include resources, personal experiences with a topic, and so on).

  8. Make an extra effort to actively participate throughout the discussion, and engage classmates throughout the duration of the discussion.

  9. Offer assistance to other students, and help others who need extra explanation on a topic.

  10. Pose questions and ask for help when needed.

Related posts in this blog:
Discussion ground rules
Don’t jump into discussions
Engaging quieter online students
Small groups reporting out to the large group?
Karma (or inspiration) points for discussion assessment
Beyond debates and conversational roles (Protocols Part 1)
Structures for asynchronous online discussions (Protocols Part 2)
Structures for synchronous online discussions (Protocols Part 3)
Structures for small groups reporting out to whole group (Protocols Part 4)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

What does it really mean to "engage the learner"?

For a number of years now, I start my courses with the following activity (stated differently for different contexts):
1) Describe your best learning experience. Think about your most valuable, effective learning experience and in at least 250 but no more than 500 words share your learning story. When you write your "Best Learning Experience" story, don’t editorialize or try to explain why you think it was your best learning experience, just tell the story. After everyone shares her or his story, we will analyze the stories.

2) Analyze each person's "Best Learning Experience" story. Take time to dig deep to discover why each particular learning experience was so special. This will probably require you to ask probing questions of each person. The goal of this analysis is to uncover a set of underlying strategies or strategic themes that seem to be at work behind the scenes in these stories.

3) Compile strategies and themes into a list of Common Instructional Values. When you design learning experiences and opportunities for others it is very important to consider what you instructionally value as a learner and educator. Your values -- based on your experience in the world and on what you know about how people think and learn (from the study of conceptual, theoretical, and empirical literature) -- should be reflected in your design and selection of instructional approaches and strategies. For example, if you believe that people learn best in collaborative settings, then your instructional design should include opportunities for collaborative learning. So, let's get our values about these things out on the table -- they will provide us with a foundation for the rest of the work we do in this course.

Using the story analyses that you did last week, work together to derive a list of common instructional values that seem to be in use throughout most of the learning experiences. For example, do each (or most) of the stories involve a hands-on component? If so, it is a common instructional value...part of the learning experience that made that experience so valuable and effective. Note: assessment of your instructional design projects throughout the course and program will include an examination of the effective incorporation of these values.

What I have found interesting is how consistent the types of stories are, and the resulting lists are. Here is an example of a "common instructional values" list:

Learner-centered --

Learning activities: are relevant, meaningful, personal, and motivating; require learners to be self-directed, self-regulating, autonomous, intentional, and metacognitively aware; and develop skills and disposition needed for lifelong learning.

Educators: facilitate and guide learning; support students in taking ownership, responsibility, and control over their learning; help students with prior knowledge activation, goal setting, action planning, and reflection; and are culturally-responsive, honoring diversity.

Learning environments include: flexible physical structures, access to a variety of resources, and tools and rubrics that encourage self-assessment and process/goal-achievement monitoring.

Contextual --
Learning activities are: authentic, real world, challenging, relevant, context-specific, complex, ill-structured, project-based, problem-based, enculturation, situated, and anchored.

Educators are: focused on professional preparation and identity; and attentive to the development of students’ confidence and self-efficacy to participate in the professional community of practice.

Learning environments include: simulations, immersion, problems, projects, case studies, service, communities of practice, enculturation.

Active --
Learning activities: are hands-on, generative, dynamic, exploratory, experiential, engaging; involve students in inquiry, discovery, problem solving, decision making, and expression; and culminate in the creation, construction, and building of products, or a performance.

Educators: provide opportunities for questioning, knowledge building, practice, and experimentation; conduct demonstrations; model performance; and engage in think-alouds.

Learning environments include: materials, labs, simulations, case studies, role-playing, and projects.

Social --

Learning activities involve: collaboration, teamwork, group work, cooperation, discourse, discussion, negotiation, debate, conversation, communication, sharing, storytelling, working together, reciprocal teaching, peer teaching/mentoring/coaching, peer review, and co-creation.

Educators: establish teacher and social presence, participate, facilitate discussions and community building, provide coaching and mentoring, and cultivate the social context.

Learning environments include: space for small group work, communication and collaboration tools, rubrics that encourage balanced voices and contributions, and access to external communities.

Supportive --

Learning activities are: culturally responsive, differentiated, fun, entertaining, and scaffolded.

Educators: are humanistic, caring, non-judgmental, competent, credible, well-organized, passionate, inspirational, enthusiastic, and attentive; minimize frustration; provide clear and complete directions/information, constructive feedback, coaching, and mentoring; and honor diversity and creativity.

Learning environments are: safe, non-threatening, celebratory, accommodating, flexible, equitable, resource rich, and multimodal.

So, my thinking is that an "engaging" learning experience requires the experience to be learner-centered, contextual, active, social, and supportive. However, I think you can have all of those things going on and still not create an engaging learning experience (although you have a better chance of it). I think about all of the students' stories over the years, and there is something more that just doesn't seem to be completely captured in the resulting lists of common instructional values. The students' learning experiences (which they might describe as "engaging") seem to be comprised of happenings/occurrences that reflect both an episodic uniqueness and a structured order...there is an ineffable qualitative character that is enjoyed, providing the basis for experienced value and aesthetic appreciation. [Note: My digital story describing my best learning experience is an example of this sort of experience.]

So, how do we engage the learner? A learning experience should be learner-centered, contextual, active, social, and supportive...but we (educators, instructional designers) also need to look at what is experienced by learners and think about how to enhance that (and I can't help but think that we can be helped a lot in this quest by considering what we know about the experience of art, music, theatre, and literature...the emotional and cognitive journey those experiences can take us on).

For a much more in-depth exploration and explanation of these ideas, please visit Pat Parrish's website -- I consider him to be an expert in the area of aesthetic principles for instructional design, and you will be able to access some of his writings via his site. (Or Google him...he has articles published on this topic.)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Problems of Practice approach

For the last several years, I have spent a lot of my consulting efforts working with higher education faculty and corporate instructional designers on appropriate instructional strategies for new and repurposed online learning opportunities (e.g., courses, tutorials, modules). Consistently, the tendency has been to start with what has already been done in the past, especially in a repurposing situation: “This has always worked in the face-to-face course, so why change it?” and “I have all the PowerPoint presentations I use in the classroom ready…can’t we just upload those to the server and call it an online course?” However, from my own experience (as well as from the literature), a problem-centered instructional approach is much more effective. Unfortunately, it isn't easy to develop authentic problems that represent the workplace and/or profession to focus and drive learning. So, over the years, I have developed a simple approach -- very similar to a backwards engineering approach to design -- to help myself, colleagues and clients create problems for problem-centered instruction (for face-to-face or online courses and workshops). I refer to this approach as the Problems of Practice (PoP) approach. The four supporting matrices -- with guided, reflective questions -- provide a roadmap for creating authentic problems.

For more information, please see two articles that describe the PoP approach in detail:

Dunlap, J.C. (2008). Getting to the heart of the problem: Using the Problems of Practice approach as a starting place for creating problem-centered instruction. Performance Improvement, 47(8), 26-34.

Dunlap, J.C., Sobel, D.M., & Sands, D. (2007). Supporting students’ cognitive processing in online courses: Designing for deep and meaningful student-to-content interactions. TechTrends, 51(4), 20-31.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Fun tool for making videos

What a fun tool -- Animoto!

I created this video in about 10 minutes.

My thinking is that I could use this tool to help me establish presence with my online students -- sharing photo collages to give them another way to get to know about me and my life. And, I could ask them to do the same as part of their introduction at the beginning of an online course. It is a way to jazz up the conventional "post your photo and bio" activity.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

My legal separation from PowerPoint (and other presentation software tools)

This is a follow-up to my earlier post on how Bullet points make me crazy...and is in response to three separate incidents that happened today:
  • To paraphrase a colleague, who was reflecting on our recent collective endeavors to create presentations in support of various workshops, "I am not impressed with our creative use of PowerPoint lately."

  • A question from a student, "Why do you avoid using PowerPoint?...I get the sense that you have [specific] reasons...."

  • I have to submit a PowerPoint presentation to go along with a webcast I am participating in. The original talk, with presentation stack, was an hour long. The webcast will be 25 minutes long. My first reaction to the need to edit the stack was, "Oh, no, not this again...why do they need a PowerPoint slideshow anyway? Can't I just talk?..."
As a mentioned before, I am horrible with this category of tools. Here's a little background on my thoughts at a more general level (as opposed to the Joni-is-lousy-at-this level).

Presentation software, such as PowerPoint, has increasingly received criticism with regard to its misuse and overuse. For example, Edward Tufte, a leading expert on the visual representation of data and a vocal opponent of PowerPoint, compares PowerPoint to a prescription drug whose side effects “induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication” (Tufte, 2003, para 1). Although harshly stated, it is hard to argue with Tufte’s assessment of PowerPoint’s limitations; we have all sat through presentations that he could use as exemplars of his point, as illustrated by these choice comments:
Heard during a training-session break, One-hundred and thirty-one slides?!? What is this, death by PowerPoint? Can’t we just skip the presentation and get to what really matters?

Read on an evaluation form, We could have just read the slides ourselves. What a waste of time.

Seen on a mailroom bulletin board, PowerPoint doesn’t bore people, people bore people.

So, even if someone hasn't posted a critical critique of my lack of PowerPoint prowess on a mailroom bulletin board (or in her or his blog), I have a realistic view of my abilities with this tool, and know that I have been guilty of misusing and overusing presentation software.

I am a good-intentioned educator who knows what good teaching looks like and is up-to-speed on current learning theory. Yet time and time-again, I was turning to presentation software as a means for delivering the bulk of my training/workshop (although not course/classroom, thank goodness) content. If asked why, I would point to:

  • Time constraints – when you have limited time to cover a topic, presentation software can help you present the material quickly and succinctly, and can help you make sure you address all of the points you want to cover

  • Development efficiency – presentation software is easy to use and learn how to use; once you have built a presentation, it is easy to repurpose and reuse slides for a new presentation; once you create the slideshow, you automatically can also produce a handout for the audience and a script for yourself

  • Transferability – PowerPoint is everywhere, on every computer, so you don’t have to worry about technology support issues during delivery or when distributing to others

  • Professional credibility – the audience does not perceive you as an expert unless you have prepared a technology-enhanced presentation

  • Audience expectations – the audience is accustomed to the structure of a presentation slideshow, having experienced so many of them; if you are delivering a presentation, the audience expects you to support what you are saying with a slideshow (and expects a handout of the slides)

What is interesting to note is that my list does not include any mention of meeting crucial instructional outcomes, such as creating an interactive, engaging learning experience that supports learning and goal achievement. Given this disconnect between my reasons for using presentation software, what I want to accomplish instructionally during a presentation, my students’ seemingly universal dislike of PowerPoint-driven presentations, and my already well-established ineffective use of Powerpoint, I have excised (as much a possible) PowerPoint from my repertoire. This is not to say that I have given up, quite the contrary. I am constantly looking for better ways to deliver presentations without relying on PowerPoint, and I collect good examples of presentation stacks in the hope that I can change.

So, for the moment, PowerPoint and I are legally separated...not divorced. There is certainly a chance for reconciliation...maybe.

Side note: If you have a chance to see people like David Wiley or Stephen Downes present, you will see good examples of interesting speeches effectively supported with presentation software. In the meantime, here are a few examples of stacks I think work (all from Slideshare, a good resource for finding presentation-design inspiration):

And, for a fun example of the misuse of PowerPoint, please see the Gettysburg Powerpoint slideshow (and be sure to read the "making of" backstory).

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Patting the ego on the head

This is a little off topic... Every year, the faculty participate in a merit review of what we have accomplished over the last year. One of the lenses we examine our work through is impact on the profession and community -- this is something we value very much. There are many ways to look at this, but here are a few fun ways:

  • Go to and plug in your name or the title of one of your articles, presentations, and so on. This search brings up all of the other articles, presentations, and so on that reference you and your work.

  • Set up a Google Alert using your name or specific article/work as your search term. Google Alerts will then send you a report (daily, weekly...whatever you select) showing you recent references on the Web relevant to your search terms (in this case, your name or specific article/work).

  • If you have a blog like this one, install a counter. I use Site Meter, which sends me a nightly report showing me who (well, not who exactly, but where) has accessed my blog, how much time they spent, what they looked at, and how they got to my blog.