An article posted on our AT&C Facebook page, combined with a couple of conversations that I've had today somewhat all tie together. The gist of the conversation is this: “I know how to use the foundational tools of my LMS. I want to make my content more engaging. Media is always a good answer. Now what? Where do I go from here? What does engaging students online look like?”
I have been pondering this thought for quite a while now. In fact, in 2010, I authored a presentation called: Beyond Lectures-How to Re-Invent Your Online Delivery to Effectively Engage Students. It included specific uses of Web 2.0 tools embedded into course content. I used Xtranormal to create and embed a cartoon of Albert Einstein explaining how to multiply two digit numbers in your head. It is pretty engaging. But it is also a bit difficult to understand because Albert still has a computer voice. So I really recommended Xtranormal for announcements or else supplemented by the universal design concept of having the exact same content available in the LMS is another format such as written text. Another tool I demonstrated was mind maps. Specifically I used Mindomo to demonstrate how the causes of the American Revolution reflect in the text of the Declaration of Independence.
Both tools are great and engaging, but another inevitable problem I encountered was that they are no longer free (or freemium as explained to me by Chris Anderson in a keynote presentation in April 2010). Whereas before, I could use the product for free and just adjust to the lack of some useful tools. Now, if I want to use the tool at all, I need to pay after a very short, mostly ineffective free trial period.
So to recap, I am trying to build content that Wows! I can create videos, mindmaps and a multitude of presentations on the Web. Many are free to use and all can be embedded into my course. So what else is there? I’m not pondering what general ideas are out there but rather specific examples I can share with colleagues to say: “You know, I tried this out and I thought it worked really well.”
There are a couple other ideas I’ve heard recently that I’ve added to my list of ideas to share when asked. The first one came from a colleague in Pennsylvania who told me he learned the idea at a professional development presentation (so if you are reading this and it is your idea, let me know because I’d love to give you credit). Most people are familiar with Wordle which generates word clouds when text is entered. The size of the words correlates to the number of times that word appeared in the text pasted. Large words are presumably important because they repeat many times increasing their size. So, after a robust weekly discussion in a course you are teaching, copy the full text of the discussion contributions, create a Wordle and then add an additional discussion the following week that is a summary/wrap-up discussion. Have the students review the Wordle and summarize in one sentence the most important point from last week’s discussion. Summary and wrap-up are good pedagogy and Wordle makes it engaging.
The other idea I heard yesterday. This one came from an instructor in Iowa who designs each page of content in the LMS as a discussion forum (versus a text/multimedia page or a doc upload or a quiz). The actually content is placed in the introductory text section of the discussion. By doing so, all online course content simulates the view of most content online that includes a comment box below the article. Students can post comments with thoughts and ideas right underneath the article which in this case is course content. The threading is already there so general comments are organized and relevant.
These are four ideas that I’ve encountered or used. Each one of us probably has one or two simple but engaging tricks/methods they include in the online portion of the courses. Just like the voting page of the article referenced in the beginning, I too would love to hear what ideas you have. What tools are you using and exactly what are you doing with that tool (like the Wordle that displays content from a discussion thread). If you reply either in the comments of this blog or post on our Academic Training and Consulting Facebook page, I would love to compile a list of all the ideas out there for creating content in your LMS that wows!
Academic Trainer & Consultant, Teaching & Learning Group