Online Blogucation

Mind the Gap

I was reading an interesting article the other day regarding 1st generation college students and their access to and understanding of technology. And it prompted me to think, that while most of my academic research deals with 1st generation students I have never taken the online student into consideration. So I decided to delve into this area for my 1st blog. According to a 2010 NCES survey almost 50% of students enrolled in higher education are considered to be 1st generation students; and as more and more of these students are enrolling into online as well as on ground programs it is imperative that colleges and universities address their unique circumstances (Hirudayaraj, 2011, p.2). Even though more 1st generation students are moving on to post-secondary education, they are still persisting at a lower rate than their multi-generation peers. In the article, Supporting First Generation Online Students it was indicated that;

Adding the “distance” component to the challenges faced by first generation learners decreases their potential to succeed in an online class or program. These students face additional challenges including access to reliable internet service, skills to utilize online support services and/or software, and social/psychological skills to navigate the higher education system (Garcia, 2007).

This is further noted by a report by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board that indicates that the statewide drop rate for 1st generation online learners is 25% while it is 18% for their on-ground peers. There are measures that colleges and universities can provide to increase the efficacy with which they retain at-risk online students, such as ensuring that their resources and staff are available online, and a vast majority do so (Garcia, 2007). But one of the forgotten challenges that face 1st generation students, is their inability to navigate the system (Garcia, 2007; Walpole, 2007). These students lack the requisite cultural capital that is necessary to navigate higher education (Oldfield, 2007). In essence these students need to learn how to learn and prosper in this environment.

The importance of this is that students, whether they are 1st generation or multi-generational college students can succeed and persist in the online environment. Tinto has indicated that if a student can make a connection with at least one individual on campus they are more likely to persist, and as an online student interacts in a virtual way with the campus this becomes even more imperative. The instructor of an online course becomes not only a mentor but a guide to higher education and technology for the student. I have had the experience of working with students who have never turned a computer on, had them in their school, or had internet experience; these were traditional college students. To conclude, as we live in a digital age it is easy to assume everyone is literate and fully capable in this realm and we can lose track of a large percentage of students. It is imperative that higher education institutions use all the resources at their disposal, whether it is data, support services, or faculty and staff to intervene and promote success for all students.

Anthony Rivas | Assessment and Analytics Group | Pearson eCollege


Garcia, M. (2007). Supporting first generation online students. Retrieved from

Hirudayaraj, M. (2011). First-generation students in higher education: Issues of employability in a knowledge based economy. Online Journal for Workforce Education and Development 5,(3). Retrieved from

Oldfield, K. (2007). Humble and hopeful: Welcoming first generation poor and working class students to college. About Campus, 11(6), 2-12.

Tinto , V. (2004, July). Student retention and graduation: Facing the truth, living with the consequences. The Pell Institute; Occasional paper, Retrieved from

Walpole, M. B. (2007). Economically and educationally challenged students in higher education: Access to outcomes. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report, 33(3), 1-113. doi:10.1002/aehe.3303


What do eLearning and ComicCon have in common?

So I decided to write this post as a comic.

Interested in trying this out for yourself? This comic strip was created using Comic Life (the free trial version, although it is less than $30 to purchase!).

Check out this website as an amazing first (and possibly only) place you need to visit: Comics in the Classroom: 100 Tips, Tools, and Resources for Teachers.

And as more food for thought, here are two blog posts in the Chronicle of Higher Education about using comics in the classroom: Comics in the classroom and beyond, and Using a graphic illustrator in higher education: Comic Life.

– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –

Director of Academic Training & Consulting

– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –

Director of Academic Training & Consulting

– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –

Director of Academic Training & Consulting


Do you teach your subject? Or do you teach people?

x-ray of a brain

This is what you are teaching...

I've just gotten back from a whirlwind tour of the world again. In the past 4 months I've been in 3 countries and presented at 9 conferences, in addition to dozens of other consulting opportunities. During that time I have met with no less than 350 educators, mostly professors or department heads and I have begun asking them a few important questions that stem from something Dr. John Medina challenged me with when he spoke at our CiTE conference last April.

Dr. Medina, a brilliant cognitive scientist who has done nothing but study how the brain works for his entire career (I hope you've already read "Brain Rules" by now...), challenged us in several ways during the conference.  My personal favorite quote?  "As I was writing Brain Rules, it hit me [that] if you wanted to design a learning environment that was directly opposed to what the brain is naturally good at doing, you would design something like a classroom."

However, there is another piece of information that I haven't been able to shake after reading it and then, after he said it to me personally before he went on stage... He explained, "I consistently read articles by educators who explain how the brain works in terms of learning, cognition, memory, focus, etc.  And every time I wonder how I possibly missed the research that proves it!  Then, after some digging, I realize that I missed nothing.  You see, cognitive scientists and educators never talk.  We don't have conferences together, we don't share journals, and we don't typically exist in the same buildings on campus.  So, what they observe behaviorally and we observe through experimentation never meet." (This is a pretty close quote - I wrote it down immediately after he said it, although it may not be 100% accurate.)

Does this bother anyone else?  I have to admit, I have read DOZENS of articles by education psychologists, seasoned veterans of the classroom, and even those from trusted educational think-tanks without really questioning the validity or science behind them.  So, as I have gone around the world talking with educators lately, I have simply asked them two questions:

  1. Do you read information about how the brain processes information, how the brain remembers, how the brain works, etc., in regard to learning?
  2. Does your school give you any kind of professional development around how people learn so as to enhance your teaching?

I'm sure you already see where I'm going...

With only a single exception, the answer has been "no" every time.  Typically, I hear that people are too busy keeping up with "their field" to worry about student learning.  However second place has to be that while everyone wants professional development, there are too few places giving it and nobody has the funds to pay for it.

So, for the past several months I have spent some time seeking out brain research.  No, I haven't gotten a subscription to Brain Science Quarterly.  But I have sought out some articles and interviews with some of the worlds leading thinkers and researchers with regard to how the brain works.  (It's also helped that I had 28 hours of on-demand documentaries while going to Australia.  Thank you United airlines...)

To that end, I wish to give you a few resources.  Why a few?  If you watch "Brain Games - Pay Attention" you will know exactly why.  This fantastic introduction to attention and the brain was created by National Geographic video.  It's only 1 hour long, but when you view "the brain" through a filter of the STUDENT brain, it becomes an even more fascinating study regarding how we teach.

What is great about the video is that they quote outstanding research scientists like Dan Simon and Daniel T. Levin who wrote, "Change Blindness."  This is a great article about just how little we can truly focus on and again, has some powerful implications for students of any age.

Then, I stumbled onto a BBC 5 show called, "Make Your Child Brilliant." And brilliant it was.  Even as a person who deals mostly with college students (although also with a 5 year old...) I could not help but be overwhelmed with excitement as Bernadette Tynan illustrated how to help students be creative, focused, and successful, regardless of the environment.  She shows how to take a normal, if not "weak" student and, using brain research and cognitive science applications turn them into a successful, "brilliant" student in an extremely short time.  It was also exciting to see how personalization, creativity, and curriculum integration were crucial to the strategies she employed.  (All things I speak about regularly...whew!)

So that's four great places to start.  (You didn't forget Medina's book yet, did you?  Again, the National Geographic video will help you understand why you might have.)  If you are looking for more, the cool thing is that every resource I just gave you should springboard into 5-20 more resources, etc., etc.

Just remember, you might know more than anyone else about 17th century poetry, the evolution of teeth, or business statistics, but you aren't teaching lit, science, or math.  You're teaching people.  You are teaching brains which have propensities, wants, needs, and abilities that we understand better than we ever have before.  So even if you can't afford the PD at your institution, try these.  They are pretty cheap and/or free.  All it will cost you is some brain power and a bit of time.

Good luck and good teaching.

Dr. Jeff D Borden
VP of Instruction & Academic Strategy


The Data Commitment

Over the last decade Higher Education has become fascinated with data. The data we collect can provide insight into student achievement, faculty effectiveness, and many other topics. We have sophisticated business intelligence tools and technology to give us more data than we could have imagined a decade ago, but why do we collect data in the first place? While there may be many perspectives about the nuances, I think we can all agree that the purpose is to improve. But if we collect all this data and fail to act upon it then where is the value-add for those involved? We must focus on completing the assessment cycle from goal to actionable results, which can be leveraged to drive change to benefit our students and positively impact their learning experience.

Hatfield (2009) in describing this common breakdown in the process:

Many of the benefits of engaging in assessment are the results of focused discussion about student achievement of the program’s learning outcomes. Yet it is not uncommon for data to be collected only to be ignored thereafter. It is not until the data has been analyzed, discussed, and used as a basis for further program improvement that assessment has taken place (p.6).

There is a process that must occur beyond the collection of data that is often forgotten. This may mean focusing data collection efforts rather than spreading resources thin to gather more data than you know what to do with. Choose one or two short term goals that you know can be successfully completed, and will have impact on your students and stakeholders. Provide immediate value for the efforts of all involved and gain their buy in for future, long-term assessment goals.

As you approach data collection, remember your goal: driving change and improvement. The tools available to us are wonderful and make collection so much easier and robust. The data will give us insight that we couldn’t have achieved previously. However, it is up to us to use this data to drive improvements, as data doesn’t act upon itself!

Hatfield, S. (2009). Assessing Your Program-Level Assessment Plan. The IDEA Center, IDEA Paper, 45. Retrieved from

Deb Corso-Larson | Assessment and Analytics Group | Pearson eCollege


What we can learn from peer-to-peer learning…

Recently, I read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about "P2PU," a rather unfortunate-sounding abbreviation for Peer 2 Peer University. (Here's a link to the article.) But despite the abbreviation, there is a lot we can learn in online education from what the founders of P2PU are trying to accomplish.

The long and the short of peer-to-peer learning is that students can collaborate on learning in such a way so that each brings his or her expertise to bear in solving a problem or answering a question. For example, one person who studies sociology might team up with another person who studies mathematics, and between them, they have the requisite knowledge to teach themselves statistics for the social sciences.

At P2PU, and largely in the open-course environment, the idea is to have this kind of learning taking place without the confines of a traditional institution of higher education. I understand where they're coming from. Professors from traditional universities are branching out into MOOCs -- "massive open online courses." (There's a great article on these in Wired Magazine from a few months ago. You can find it here.) The professors who run such courses -- at schools such as MIT, Stanford, Princeton, and Michigan -- are struggling within their own institutions to determine how to provide some sort of useful credential for those who pass their courses, which in and of itself requires some bona fide way to assess all the students who participate in the course.

P2PU is attempting to solve the credentialing problem by offering badges for the completion of a course, much like the social badges many of us earn when reaching a new achievement in an online game. But don't take that as an indication that the work required for such a badge is trite; far from it, there is a lot of learning to be done to achieve badges such as "Critical Thinking" or "Javascript Expert." The challenge faced by P2PU is whether anyone will recognize those badges as legitimate indicators of knowledge and skills.

For those of us who do teach at traditional institutions of higher education, there is a lot to learn here. Social learning is becoming the canon of online education, and just within the last 12 to 18 months. It's the foundation of peer-to-peer learning, and open-universities like P2PU recognize that. MOOCs also recognize the value of a facilitating professor. And employers -- the vast majority of them still -- recognize the value of a college degree or certificate.

I don't see that any of these strategies or perspectives is right all by itself. But, taken together, we have the ingredients for a successful online program. If you have your own ideas on this topic, please comment -- I'd appreciate some peer-to-peer learning with this blog post!


Is Disruption a Bad Thing?

I’ve been reading a lot about disruption lately in the context of higher education– disruptive technology, disruptive innovation, and disrupt more generally as a verb – and I’m trying to figure out if disruption is a good thing or a bad thing.

According to Merriam-Webster , disrupt is a verb that means to “break apart” or “to interrupt the normal course or unity of.” So, at first glance, it might seem that disruption is a bad thing in that it tends to break or interrupt. We certainly don’t want to see higher education become broken, right? But, depending on who you talk to, higher education is already broken and certainly from that perspective, a little disruption might actually be a good thing.

Disruptive innovation is the topic of a recent report released by the Center for American Progress, A ‘Disruptive’ Look at Competency-Based Education. In this report, Louis Soares examines how the innovative use of technology can transform the education experience for students using “the lens of ‘disruptive innovation,’ a business theory that considers how technology can change an organization, sector, or industry.”

According to the author, there are four interrelated elements that must be included in order for disruptive innovation to be possible: a technology enabler (a transformed business process that can be performed by computer software), a business model change (so that customers receive a more affordable and convenient product or service), a new value network (ability to connect with other businesses that offer complementary services), and standards (to define how the industry operates). Soares offers an evaluation of each of these elements to determine if they are present for competency-based education.

He concludes that the technology and business model elements currently exist, however, the value network remains underdeveloped due to the lack of “a common set of agreed upon standards, both educational and technological, detailing how a new cohort of educational providers would integrate their offerings.” He cites two examples of the beginning of standards - the Degree Qualifications Profile and the Manufacturing Skills Certification System. His final conclusion provides hope for those who want to see competency-based education come to fruition indicating that this analysis “clearly demonstrates that competency-based education does have the potential to be a disruptive innovation in postsecondary education” and he further states that “the technologies, organizational experimentation, and standards are coalescing in ways that make competency-based education a potential game changer in the delivery and affordability of postsecondary education.”

So, back to my original quandary, is disruption a good thing or a bad thing? In this instance, I believe the development of competency-based education can indeed disrupt our current model of higher education in a positive direction. For students, competencies with clearly defined and accepted standards enable learning to be documented no matter how the student obtains the skills. By providing “courses” that are available using technologies such as on-line delivery systems, people can pursue their educational goals no matter where they are and no matter what type of schedules they require making it easier to juggle the other demands many face such as family and work commitments. These types of courses can also be offered at affordable rates making access to quality education more broadly available. For employers, competency-based education provides a much clearer expectation for what potential employees know and can do since the standards would be recognized no matter where or how the individual attained them (i.e., via work experiences or formal training and education). If employers are included in the development of these standards, the process can be even more useful.

Is disruption a bad thing? Tell us what you think.

Kimberly Thompson
Assessment Consultant
Academic Training & Consulting
Pearson eCollege

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The Course Overhaul: Redesign and Refresh

In 2006, I began teaching a graduate research and writing course online. It was my first fully online course. I had taught hybrid courses before, but never a fully online course. The first online course I taught was fairly basic in its design. I uploaded a Word document for my syllabus, created a threaded discussion for every unit, and then provided written lecture notes for my students to read in each unit. The course was very text-heavy. There were no graphics or images of any kind. As I continued teaching the same course—every quarter (sometimes in two or even three sections each quarter) over the past five years—I began to add improvements. Images were one of the first enhancements; color was another. A few pieces of multimedia followed in the form of short videos recorded using Jing to show students how to set scholar preferences in Google Scholar or how to remove the extra vertical space between paragraph in Microsoft Word. Nevertheless, the basic design of the course remained the same until the past year or two. My lectures remained text-based, largely because I didn’t have the time to update them to a more useable format.

I’ve known for quite a while that I needed to move my lectures from being purely textual to something offering multimodal learners an easier way to access the material. The largest problem I faced (and still face), therefore, when considering redesigning my online courses was not a lack of knowledge about what needed to be done to make the course more usable for students but a lack of time. Even a course “facelift” requires a substantial time commitment, and the demands of my (and most online instructors’) teaching schedule don’t allow me any “extra” time. I continue to teach two to three courses every quarter, and I teach every quarter of the year. Excepting the longest break between quarters, which occurs between the fall and winter quarters, I usually have a one-week space between ending one quarter and beginning the next. That week must include time for both final grades as well as the usual updates to my online course—dates in the syllabus, scheduling of announcements, and so on.

My research and experience with other online instructors tells me that my situation is far from unusual. Online instructors, especially those who are contingent or adjunct faculty, are often not afforded sufficient (or any) time for course development. Many are driven by the need to teach a large number of courses as frequently as possible to earn a living and risk (or think they risk) losing course assignments if they decline them for a term, even if they do so in an attempt to overhaul the courses they teach on a regular basis. But such course development and redesign work is an absolutely critical part of effective online courses and thus of student success in online programs more generally. Online courses date extremely quickly; a course designed a year and a half ago can both look and feel stale to the students. New technology in the form of online tools and software emerges all the time, and technology that was new two years ago may change in a way that will impact its functionality once it has been used in an online course (witness Xtranormal or Mindomo, both of which were freemium software a few years ago but have since changed their business model to one that offers much less functionality in the free versions).

Apart, then, from institutions allowing their online instructors, both full-time and adjunct, the necessary time to perform course overhauls—the most ideal situation but perhaps also the least likely to happen at many institutions—what can instructors do to make the process less time-intensive? First, request that you be provided with a master version of the courses you teach repeatedly. That way, any updates can be made to the masters on an ongoing basis during the term itself as you think of them. When the term expires, the new section of your course can be duped from the master course. Failing that, keep a list of changes you want to make and prioritize them. If you have a longer break between two terms, use that time to make the larger improvements that need to be made. Smaller changes can be made quickly over a shorter break. The main thing, though, is to be prepared for the fact that updates to online courses will need to take place on a consistent, perpetual basis in order for the course to remain fresh and effective for student success.

Jennifer Golightly, Ph.D.

Academic Trainer & Consultant

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Catching up is hard to do…

The hypothesis of convergence in economics recognizes the opportunity for developing economies to grow at a faster rate than those that are developed, for several reasons, including the possibility of developing nations replicating methods from those that are considered developed. Also known as the "catch-up effect" the central hypothesis is that economies can begin at great points of disparity in terms of their development of per-capita income but can ultimately converge at a certain point, given the necessary variables for growth. In the economics of information, we can apply this same principle and discover that the central hypothesis is in effect.

Follow my thought process with me for just a moment. We live in a time where information is abundant and abundantly available. So much so that the challenge for us as educator’s lies in our ability to scan, synthesize and select the valuable information more than it does in having access to it.

Let’s take this one step further.

Have you ever felt like the availability of new technology and tools you can use in your classroom far outruns your ability to process, let alone take advantage of it? That’s exactly how many of us feel and I bet that those who really can keep up with all of it are the few. Let’s pick up that convergence or “catch-up effect” again here. The central hypothesis is that those in development, albeit in truly initial stages of it, can actually exceed the pace of growth of those who are “developed”, given the right variables to do so. And ultimately, they can converge at a certain point, despite the initial differences in starting points.

In the world of education and research for the technology and tools we can use in our courses, the catch-up effect can mean that from wherever we find ourselves in our current knowledge and use of Web 2.0 or Web tools, given the right variables to grow, we can actually experience great acceleration in what we know about these tools if we can replicate the methods (tools, techniques, strategies) of others who we might consider “more developed” in this area.

Now, let’s build up the variables in our favor.

What can we leverage in this information-abundant age in order to accelerate our tasks of scanning, synthesizing and selecting valuable tools to use in our courses?

One answer lies in the wonderful sites that amalgamate the tools that are worth a look. These sites, such as, act as the runners of the internet and the curators of the many available tools, making it easier for us to find something of value for our courses with less effort.

Other sites, such as, take the directory idea and step it up a notch by publishing resources that help synthesize and filter those vast tool lists by relevant criteria, including votes from others educators on what really works. Remember, applying the tools, techniques (and lessons learned) of others who have tried something out in their courses is a great way to start a step ahead…talk about the opportunity for convergence! From the now well-established free tools that have made their way into our classrooms, such as Wordle, to the new and up-and-coming sites that await our discovery, these Web 2.0 resource sites are the invaluable work of others that can truly help save us time, effort and even frustration.

So, on to the valuable resources that can help us get ahead.


Web 2.0 Tool Collection (Curated & Categorized)
Presented by: Discovery Education & DeVry University

“The 100 Best Web 2.0 Classroom Tools Chosen By You”
Presented by: Edudemic

“The Ultimate Homepage” (Curated & Visual)
Presented by: AllMyFaves

The Web Applications Index
Presented by: Go2web20

Now it is time to start!

Copy and paste the following link into your internet browser's address bar to open all of these sites at the same time. Check them out and then tag one or tag them all as your favorite to easily return in the future.


You can also scan the QR Code (short for "Quick Response"), which contains access to all of the websites I've referenced in the post. (A QR Code is essentially a barcode that carries data which can be scanned by most smart phone cameras. Be sure to download a QR Code Reader App that will utilize your phone's camera like a scanner, allowing it to "read" the barcode. I personally use ScanLife for iPhone, a free app available for download at the iTunes App Store).

QR Code:


Have you used any of these sites to find great tools for your courses? Do you have a favorite site you like to use? Consider sharing by commenting on this blog post. We’d love your input!

Rachel Cubas

Academic Trainer & Consultant
Assessment & Analytics Group | Academic Training & Consulting (ATC)

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Proactive plagiarism prevention

goblin plagiarism gameMany of us don’t think about academic dishonesty until we are confronted with it. But why not be proactive and try to prevent academic dishonesty in the first place? Here are several proactive ways to prevent plagiarism or cheating, starting with when you’re planning your course, and then considering important communication to have with students.

Course Planning
To help reduce plagiarism or cheating, here are several avenues to think about when planning your course:

  • Plan for multiple small-stakes assignments, instead of one larger assignment worth a significant portion of the grade. This reduces the incentive to cheat and also makes it logistically harder for students to purchase papers or have someone else do the work for them.
  • Scaffold assignments to have multiple pieces of an assignment building throughout the semester. This helps you see the developing assignment and learn the student’s voice, so you are better able to determine a final product that doesn’t fit with the previous work.
  • Create new assignments each term. This reduces the chance that work can be resubmitted term after term.
  • Create unique assignments that students are less likely to be able to find directly on the internet. For example, Google your assignments- if you can find resources that directly address the topic, then your students can as well.
  • Finally, I won’t discuss exams in detail here, but this article is a good place to start for more information on how to prevent cheating in online exams.

Clearly communicate expectations to students
Another important way to set the stage is to proactively communicate your expectations to students. Here are some specific areas to focus on:

  • Make sure you have clearly written policies – AND penalties for what happens if those policies are not followed – in your course syllabus, and repeated other places in the class (such as announcements, introductory areas for the assignments or exams, etc.).
  • Educate your students on what plagiarism (or cheating) is, and what behaviors are or are not ok in your class. Some students don’t know when it’s ok to work with other students and when it’s not, and there may even be differences between their classes on this point. They may not know how to cite sources, or when to cite sources, why it’s not ok to cut and paste off the internet, etc. You could have an introductory discussion around plagiarism or academic integrity, or refer students to many relevant resources online. For example, a fun game to check out is the “Goblin Threat” plagiarism game by Lycoming College.
  • • Discuss your institution’s academic honesty policy with students. Here’s an interesting finding: “Students cheat. But they cheat less often at schools with an honor code and a peer culture that condemns dishonesty” (McCabe and Trevino). Other important aspects of this finding include the institution clearly communicating that academic integrity is a top institutional priority, and also students having a role in the judicial processes evaluating alleged infringements. You alone can’t change the institutional culture to make these things happen, but you can make sure to discuss any existing policy with your students and let them know that you expect it to be upheld. You could also do an assignment where students “sign” an academic integrity contract with you at the beginning of class.

Of course there is no guarantee that these efforts will prevent all attempts at academic dishonesty. However, they should help reduce the frequency. So try to work these items in the next time you revise your class, and post a comment on how it goes (or other thoughts on this topic)!

– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –
Director of Academic Training & Consulting

Sources referenced:

Krovitz G. 2007. Ways to prevent cheating in online exams. Educator’s Voice 8(6). Accessed online at

Lycoming College. Goblin Threat Plagiarism Game.

McCabe D. and L.K. Trevino. 2002. Honesty and honor codes. Academe January-February. Accessed online at:


What exactly defines a Wow!?

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!

Pamela Kachka
Academic Trainer & Consultant, Teaching & Learning Group
Pearson eCollege

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