Establishing a Human Connection in Online Courses

There is something magical about the first day of class. Everyone arrives excited about the semester ahead, there’s a buzz that can be felt around all parts of campus, and it is truly the first time you, a faculty member, are able to connect with your students. That connection, one which signals credibility, provides insight into the subject matter as a whole, and, perhaps most importantly, establishes a human connection for the entire semester, ensures that students feel connected to their learning environment. Instructors are human after all and instructor presence is an important aspect of teaching and learning.

Credibility, Insight, Connection

As I began to strategize for the first day of delivery, I wanted to ensure that I achieved all three elements stated above (credibility, insight, and connection). Teaching an online course, the challenge I face would be never actually getting to see my students in front of me. I could of course write an award winning essay that addressed these same elements, but reading alone might not be the best method to achieve the results I seek. I want each student to feel a personal connection and I believe video to be the most effective format for that purpose.

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That Horrible Blinking Record Icon

As it turns out being in front of the camera is an entirely different experience than being in front of a classroom full of students. In the classroom you don’t have time to worry about your hair, if you tend to say the word “um” a few times, the pitch of your voice, or how often you tend to blink. In front of the camera however, that’s all you tend to worry about as you transition from looking at your students to looking at yourself for the duration of the video. The funny thing is, even faculty who have spent years in front of a classroom may turn camera-shy as soon as soon as that little red record light comes on. There is no escaping or ignoring that blinking red light.

Beep. Recording. Beep. Recording. Beep. Eek!

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Something Magical Happens

Once you realize that you’re no longer auditioning for a lead role in the next summer blockbuster, you let your guard down just enough to appear to be a normal human being. Then something truly magical happens…you begin to smile…your sense of humor becomes apparent…and you end with a video that (although it won’t win any awards) isn’t that bad after all. Heck, you could do this every week! Kidding of course.

The end result is that, by simply creating an introductory video for your online course,  you will have established an instructional relationship with your students that encompasses all aspects of a “Community of Inquiry” model (image below). Such a video, in whatever method you use to create it, helps students feel a sense of belonging in their course (even if they’ll never actually see you in person since this is an online class after all).

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Garrison, Anderson, and Archer Community of Inquiry Model

Last Steps

The last step I needed to accomplish was simply sharing the video with my students. I did this by uploading the video to YouTube publicly (I know that’s a scary idea for some instructors, but unlisting the video on YouTube or utilizing Vimeo with privacy settings fully enabled would have been other options). Once uploaded I made sure to create closed captioning (subtitles), before embedding the video in my first official welcome message within Blackboard (image below).

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Additional Resources

Share Your Process

Please feel free to add your comments or suggestions in the comment box below. I’d love to learn what other instructors are doing and in turn share great ideas even further.

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MVC Teaching & Learning Center

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BEFORE: The previous self-support lab in W162.

What if faculty and staff could go to a single place on campus to receive one‐on‐one support, learn about new and emerging technologies, and begin the process of professional development?

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It’s surprising what paint can do to breath life into an underutilized space!

The Challenge

The support model and organizational structure for Distance Education and Professional Development at Mountain View College has changed. On campus these services have been spread out across multiple locations and even multiple floors. There is some confusion, partly because of new hires within these departments, previous support roles provided, and servicing locations, as to where faculty and staff go for one‐on‐one support, what technology is currently available, and who provides support.

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The first shipment of updated furniture arrives!

Proposed Solution

By consolidating existing staff into a single location (W162), we can begin to provide the institution with a consistent presence and drop‐in support related to the new scope of services under eLearning and Professional Development. Lack of presence and drop‐in support has been a missing element, as noted by faculty during previous return weeks.

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The redesign now support three full-time staff within the space (as well as all of the previous computer equipment).

A Staffed Center

By transitioning three full‐time employees to the space, support levels, expectations, and space utilization will drastically improve. We’d like to see the space become known as a “Teaching and Learning Center” instead of a self-support lab. Within a teaching and learning center meaningful dialogue is exchanged, instructional strategies are proposed, and curiosity is paired with the right hardware or software (that can in turn even be checked out to interested individuals).

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IT helped ensure that all PCs were reconnected, that the two new Macs worked perfectly, and that all computers now share a network printer.

Questions and Answers

What’s happening to this space?

W162 is being upgraded to support teaching and learning efforts at Mountain View College. We’re preparing to support eLearning and Professional Development across the institution.

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AFTER: The redesign now includes the same number of PCs, two new Macs, and three staff workstations!

What’s changed?

We’ve kept the same four PCs, added two new Macintosh computers, and brought in three staff members into the space. We’ve upgraded hardware and software across the board and aim to eventually provide one-on-one support for teaching and learning efforts. The major difference is that W162 is now a staffed Teaching and Learning Center (instead of a self-support lab).

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We hope that employees drop by for a quick tour of the new space.

Can I still use the space?

Of course! We’d like to invite every employee to utilize the new hardware and software, ask questions of the staff in the space, or simply drop by to take a quick tour! You are the reason why we’ve invested in the space improvements and we’d love to keep supporting you.

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These two Macs are ready to handle all of your multimedia needs!

When will the space be finished?

We’re currently working with IT and facilities to finish up installation and configuration of all computer equipment and printers. We should be fully operational during the month of November. In the meantime, you are completely welcome to use the space as we are working through completion.

Of course everyone’s invited for an official open house in the month of December! Stay tuned for more details as we continue to enhance the space.

eCampus Maintenance in December

December 27-January 2, 2016

eCampus (aka Blackboard) is currently scheduled for a maintenance upgrade December 27-January 2, 2016. While there is no “best” time for such maintenance or scheduled downtime, this was determined to be the most ideal time as recommended  by selected committees (DELT, AVP’s, VP’s, TILT, and LCET) across the district.

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Impact on Wintermester

Enrollment data tells us the dates selected will affect the fewest number of students and faculty.  Unfortunately, for those who teach during wintermester, this down-time will need to be taken into consideration when setting up wintermester courses.  Students and faculty will not have access to eCampus during this period.

Communication and Awareness

At this time, the following recommendations are to take place regarding the maintenance period and eCampus communication:

  • Faculty are being informed via Distance Education and Learning Technologies Council (DELT) representatives, so wintermester courses can be developed with this eCampus “shut down” period in mind
  • Soon, announcements will appear in eCampus login page for students and faculty
  • Soon, announcements will appear in eCampus Faculty Tab
  • Faculty to communicate with students early in wintermester about this (such as adding information in course syllabi for wintermester courses)
  • Completion status posted in eCampus as maintenance period completes

Additional Details from District

TO: ALL FACULTY

Distance Education and Learning Technologies (DELT) Council representatives, Vice Presidents of Instructions and others have been made aware in recent months of a need to make the eCampus (Blackboard) environment unavailable during the forthcoming Wintermester for system upgrade purposes. Originally, the down period was intended to run December 27 to 31. Recent planning and testing for this event has indicated additional time is required and we are asking faculty to make plans that accommodate the system being unavailable from Dec 27 to Jan 2. It is possible that the planned upgrading of the system could be completed before Jan 2.

WHAT?

The eCampus system will be unavailable from December 27th through January 2nd due to an upgrade.  The Blackboard system will undergo two major changes:

  • Move from a Managed Hosting environment to a SaaS environment (Software-as-a-Service)
  • Upgrade from our current release October 2014 CU4 to October 2016 CU2

WHY?

  • SaaS deployment provides a cloud-computing environment with zero to minimal downtime.  The SaaS model allows for faster delivery of maintenance, updates, and fixes, and the cloud platform easily scales during periods of high usage.
  • Other than maintenance releases, our system has not been upgraded in two years.

WHY NOW?

  • eCampus has become a true 365x24x7 system with very little flexibility in scheduling downtime.  Moving to SaaS will eliminate the need to take the system down for standard maintenance and upgrades.
  • Moving to a SaaS environment requires us to be on the most recent release.  Upgrades going forward will be made using the Flexible Deployment Option.  This means we will continue to schedule when we want the new functionality but we should not incur any downtime.
  • We recently signed a new two-year contract with Blackboard that allows us to move to SaaS with the option of deploying their latest offering, ULTRA, at our convenience.  Moving to ULTRA will be a separate project and will not occur until after the Spring semester.

ECAMPUS UPGRADE DETAILS – BACKGROUND & TECHNICAL NOTES FOR THOSE THAT NEED MORE INFORMATION

Over the past several years staff have continued to look for ways to improve system availability and reliability.  In August of 2013, DCCCD moved from a self-hosted environment to a managed hosted environment.  This move helped decrease outage times due to hardware and network related issues.  Over the past three years, the system has been very stable and we have experienced very minimal downtime.  However, due to circumstances such as data center issues, hardware, etc. there were a few instances where service was interrupted.

The next evolution is Software as a Service (SaaS).  This is a software distribution model that is cloud based.  Cloud services such as SaaS provide more on-demand resources and are scalable to meet peak demand.

Our existing contract with Blackboard expired on August 31st, 2016.  In signing a two-year extension with them DCCCD picked up the option to go to the SaaS platform with their latest product offering, ULTRA.  The advantage of this is that implementation can be in stages and not force faculty and students to make any major changes until we have had time to pilot ULTRA and training before implementation.  DCCCD will wait until the product is deemed fully functional before deploying (summer of 2017 at the earliest).  In making this decision DCCCD is positioned for providing the latest technology, the latest software offerings and the best system availability.

eLearning Quality Scorecard Initiative

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Introduction to the Quality Scorecard

As the Dean of eLearning, Instructional Support, and Professional Development at Mountain View College I’ve had the pleasure of participating in a year long district-wide initiative in support of the Quality Scorecard. The scorecard is an easy-to-use process for measuring elements of quality within online learning programs in higher education. The results of this process ultimately help support eLearning program improvement at our own campus, as well as across the entire district.

Elements of the Quality Scorecard

In total there are nine categories to the Quality Scorecard. Each category contains roughly seven to eight indicators that are assigned a Deficient, Developing, Accomplished, or Exemplary status. We are being asked to self-evaluate and score each indicator. It is a chance to voice our opinions, make recommendations to the district, and ultimately drive meaningful change at MVC related to eLearning.

Progress To-Date

To date, through participation of the Distance Learning Committee, MVC, along with all colleges of the DCCCD, has completed the following categories:

  1. Technology Support
  2. Instructional Support
  3. Student Support
  4. Faculty Support

We now move forward with the fifth category, Course Development and Instructional Design. As this category is evaluated, scored, and feedback consolidated, we’ll provide a summary back to the district and meet for a full day of review. This process will be repeated for the remainder of the initiative (a year long process) and end with specific recommendations for the district as a whole.

Stay tuned for more updates, shared recommendations, and project status.

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