Thursday, November 13, 2014

Online Teaching and "Body Language"

Image description: A quotation by Jenifer Ringer,
"Terry taught ballet as if it were very important and precious."

Vignette 1:

"Terry taught ballet as if it were very important and precious." - Jenifer Ringer, Dancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet. 

Pointe Technique in Ballet
Image Description: Feet clad in ballet
shoes standing on pointe position
A line in a book given to me during the early days of losing my parents; supposedly the heroine's victory over her struggles would inspire me. A short sentence fraught with meaning and implications. I especially love the second half of the sentence. The words swirled with the other info bytes in my mind from last week's learning.

[Context: Jenifer Ringer was a professional ballerina. In her memoir, she wrote that she found ballet boring until she met Terry Shields who instilled in her the important virtue of discipline combined with high standards in dancing (2014, p. 12). ]

Vignette 2:

Online Teaching 101. A graduate seminar discussion. On the projector screen were these words, "effective face-to-face teaching." I asked students to explore this phrase and make their thoughts and observations visible through words, questions and metaphors.

Working in pairs, one graduate student raised a question about the potential influence of a teacher's body language on student learning outcomes.

"Are you impressed?" (by their question).


The mashup:

A weekend and four days later.

Ringer's quote and the students' question led me to think about the planning of my potential summer 2015 online course more delicately. In an online course, many students may not literally "see" an online teacher-facilitator and/or a fellow student's body language.

To be honest, what does body language look like online? Or better, how is it represented online?

First, let's be clear about what "body language" means:
Body Language "refers to various forms of nonverbal communication, wherein a person may reveal clues as to some unspoken intention or feeling through their physical behavior. These behaviors include, but are not limited to: facial expressions, body posture, gestures, eye movement, touch and the use of space." (Wikipedia
  1. Does body language matter online? 
  2. If so, how does the teacher/student display body language? 
  3. What is/are the difference(s)?...
I have many questions. On top of my abundance of questions on participatory networked learning: contract grading (Cathy Davidson), avoiding resistance to contract grading, crowdsourcing grading, peer evaluation, constantly negotiated syllabus... My head is hurting.

Since online learning is mediated by communication technology - text, image (still and moving),  sound, synchronous and asynchronous communication, conveying to my online students how important and precious the subject matter is --to me-- requires meticulous design.

To answer Q2 first, the usual suspects in the technology realm for representing "voice" and "presence" are:

  • Real-time webconferencing
  • Biographies with visuals
  • Podcasts 
  • Conversational tone of text communications 

I've read blogposts by some online participants condemning real-time conferencing, in particular when a panel of facilitators are not prepared. Awkward silence pervades when panelists don't know when it is their turn to speak and students are left wondering how to respond to silence. We live in a world where quick wit is prized and silence/time to think is punished. To answer Q1, yes, it matters, especially if you are going to create videoclips and simulations of real-time teaching where your nonverbal communication cues are going to be captured.

[Note, Nov. 15, 2014: It's not the technology alone that is going to do the job; it is how you use the technology to help you express your intents and motives.]

Yet, Ringer's quote demanded more. I'd not just have to choose an appropriate technology but also, be mindful of all the elements of a course that would gel together to convey my teaching attitude: from frequency of contact with my students, to type of learning activities (Ringer got the chance to participate in real stage productions where her learning mattered), to even how my course site looks. Students care about the values teachers are imparting, like Ringer. Every detail of the course would convey if I'm fearlessly passionate about the topic. It's simultaneously exhausting and rewarding to design and teach a course.

As to Q3, is there a difference between how a teacher and a student conveys her intentions in real-time and virtual spaces? This is a difficult one.

Ideally, we are all human beings and regardless of our status, there should be no difference; we ought to treat each other with respect and dignity. But teachers are held to a higher standard as the role model and facilitator. Granted, Freire wrote that we are all teachers, at some point, and we learn from each other. This answers Q3 theoretically. But what happens often in practice?  Sometimes, we forget to prepare in advance for the learner who is legally blind or deaf or has a physical disability which holds back his/her participation in the course. We forget that that blinking multiple-images gif might not be read by the screen reader too well. And that automatic captioning by Google is hardly any captioning at all unless we are all wonderful voice talents and videographers. We don't know that sometimes a blind student might need more than one type of screen reader to access information on the web. Because we have yet to encounter a person with such challenges. Yes, teachers are held to a higher standard. We have to be vigilant of different learners with different needs and seek to make them feel welcome.

A somewhat cliched quote I'll include to end this post, but nonetheless one I often think about in teaching and relating to people:

Image Description: A quotation by Theodore Roosevelt,
"No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care."
My ex-students had indicated this to me over and over again in my life. Thanks, folks, for what you taught me. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Help! I am teaching online

I thought about adding these 5 words (my blogpost title) to the trending hashtag in Twitter, #ScaryStoriesIn5Words. Those tweets made Halloween Day somewhat more Halloween for me, lots of drama and jokes. Scary? Not so much at the ALT Lab where I was stationed for livestreamed sessions from the Online Learning Consortium's International Conference (OLC). Which is a good thing.

The turnout wasn't ideal but a real and urgent need of some faculty or future faculty members emerged from conversations with some attendees. Some major questions were:

"I think I'm going to be teaching online. Where can I find training resources to prepare me for this role?"

"I have faculty who have been teaching face-to-face (F2F) classes but are now going to start teaching online courses. I can't train them all by myself. Help?"

"We have adjunct instructors who work fulltime and are unable to attend any of the ALT Lab's programs." 

At the ALT Lab, we have programs and events to help faculty get started with online teaching: OLE, Agora, Online Learning Summit, live-streaming of OLC sessions ... Together with the other programs and resources we offer, we hope the variety of formal and informal learning opportunities will help enhance faculty online and F2F teaching experience. 

But I will be honest and confess that I don't have an answer to all three questions above. I understand that most people lead busy and full lives. But rather than wait to learn from a formal course, I would advise new online instructors to regard informal self-directed learning as a significant learning path to professional development for online teaching. I am not going to write about the institutional support instructors must have to get started with online teaching. This blogpost focuses on individual first-time instructors of online teaching and 3 broad suggestions I have for getting started with informal learning. (Disclaimer: These are purely my suggestions and views, not my employer's):

1. Learner Empathy: Take an Online Course

Experience it for yourself, no matter how busy you are. It's about developing learner empathy (Parrish, 2006). It would help the instructor to understand what it might be like when teacher-student roles are reversed. There is an incredible number of open access online courses available. Try the MOOCs (e.g. Connected Courses). 

Image Description: A woman jumps off the cliff and dives into the ocean of online teaching. There are people standing in the online ocean waiting to receive her.
Face the Fear.
Image Description: A woman jumps off the cliff and dives into the ocean of online teaching. There are
people standing in the online ocean waiting to receive her.

2. Face the Fear: Start Learning and Connecting

There is much to be said about building an arsenal of digital tools and sharpening the tools you are going to be using in your online course. Online communities and communication are mediated by technology. The 3 Ws (World Wide Web) might sound scary, and overwhelming, with its infinite possibilities for learning and also, abuse. But I don't see any short-cuts to becoming an effective online teacher and facilitator. I am not one to prescribe specific steps, but joining a community of folks who share your interest might be the best place to start learning about online pedagogy and tools. For examples,
  • Read, watch, listen. Articles, e-books, blogs. Hybrid Pedagogy; what better place to start than in the in-between space? Consider this article by Jesse Stommel on Online Learning: A Manifesto. If you find a chance, talk about it with some other instructors from your program. 
  • Post blog comments, AND, then start blogging to share information and news with your students and colleagues from near and far.  
  • Create a Twitter account (My colleague Tom Woodward shared this interesting article about Twitter, Why I Use Twitter)
  • Join Google+ communities of your interests (You need a GMail account)

I believe teachers have to carve out a safe online space for themselves to experiment and learn with others continuously, thus modeling for their students what it is like to learn from a global audience. We can no longer think of learning as something that is solely confined to a classroom. Or wait to enter a formal space to learn with others. Learn what you can with what time you have. Deliberately, on the go, just-in-time. Learn to steal away for microlearning moments. Develop learning habits that suit your schedule and learning disposition.

3. Keep Learning and Tweaking Your Course: Perfection is Not a Requirement

Someone told me she wouldn't teach online until she has learned enough about online teaching.  "Enough" is a subjective term. It is wise of her to give herself time to prepare adequately for online teaching and not try to replicate a face-to-face class online. In fact, a radical change in mindset is a must for new online instructors. Armed with this readiness to embrace change and some knowledge of how to make the change, one can begin to take the plunge to decide to teach online. However, we need to recognize that no course is going to be perfect from the get-go. Although we may have a plan and a course ready by the time we are in a position to push off from the starting-blocks, the course will be subject to some minor (?) revisions as it progresses through the semester. I don't know any teacher with a heart for teaching who doesn't improvise as s/he teaches throughout the semester.

This post is necessarily a simple reductionistic post about getting started. It does not pretend to be a solution that responds to all the complexities involved in preparing faculty to teach online.

I welcome comments anyone may have to help new online faculty get started through informal learning.


Parrish, P. (2006). Design as storytelling. TechTrends, 50(4), 72-82)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Visual Language

A couple of weeks ago, a faculty member contacted us to ask for tips to help his students' articulate their ideas in more creative ways. As I responded to the request by suggesting some resources, I realized that in an unplanned way, I've spent some time trying out software and documented my playtime in my blog. I was thus able to refer the faculty member to examples of software and activities I've tried out myself or learned from others.

Here are some older blogposts I've written about my "serious play" with software and activities. I hope they will be of some help to someone:

Online Icebreakers
Oblique Strategies
International Groupwork
Embedding WowSlider in Blogger
Online Art Portfolio Sites
Automatic Captioning & Automatic Timing from Google
13 posts on Second Life, Games & Simulations (dated June 2007)
5 posts on Second Life & Virtual Worlds (dated December 2007)

The rest of this blogpost will focus on two enchanting software I've been fiddling with.

Visual Poetry

I got wind of this tool through #CCourses -- it comes from an interesting resource-rich site for writers (thanks to Kevin Hodgson, @dogtrax, Language is a Virus. I played with the web tool with a stanza from Paul Muldoon's poem*:
I thought again of how art may be made, as it was by André Derain,
of nothing more than a turn
in the road where a swallow dips into the mire
or plucks a strand of bloody wool from a strand of barbed wire
in the aftermath of Chickamauga or Culloden
and builds from pain, from misery, from a deep-seated hurt,
a monument to the human heart
that shines like a golden dome among roofs rain-glazed and leaden.

Image created using Visual Poetry online software.
A stanza of Paul Muldoon's poem, Incantata, was used for this exploration.

Here's how I used this tool to indicate a bit of my emotional response to the stanza.

Muldoon's stanza is extracted from Incantata, written in memory of someone he loved. It is richly descriptive and heartbreaking to read of his recollection of their times together. When I read this poem, I think of my parents. Using the software (you enter the text into the software interface, and use the mouse to outline something; if you have a drawing tablet, that would be greatly helpful!), I drew a sketch -- with my iMac mouse -- to express my longing to see and talk to my parents again someday.

I think of this tool as something a teacher might introduce to her students if she wants them to express writing in a creative and emotionally engaging way. It might seem a tad gimmicky, but teachers can facilitate discussions around students' images. Why did they draw this picture? What were they trying to express? What do the other students see in this picture? These pictures can be embedded in websites, blogs and student portfolios.

A LOT of people are either horrified by or reject the idea of using digital tools that require them to draw, something, no matter how simple :

"I can't draw -- much less draw with a mouse!"

Stick figures are drawings too and you can be very creative with these (see Dharma Comics). On hindsight, I believe I developed a visual language to communicate my ideas over time. Be patient and kind to yourself.


Another fun site that provides free software to make your text interesting is ImageChef. This is the same poem by Muldoon that I've fitted into two templates (limited ready-made templates available on the site but you can create your own symbol to fit text in) -- a panda and a man's silhouette:

How is this helpful and different from Wordle or Tagxedo? ImageChef allows users to include whole paragraphs of text (that are not too long) while Wordle or Tagxedo picks out words that are used most frequently for display as word clouds.  I've used the panda and man's images because I was testing the templates but you can upload your own images/photos to outline a symbol that fits the mood of the text you want to display. A panda doesn't exactly match the sentiments of the poem, but who knows what some students may think of when given the opportunity to be creative?

Till my next experiment then!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Thinking Like the Web

Anant Agarwal, CEO of EdX, describes MOOCs as the next-generation textbooks. As I was savoring Unit 3 of #CCourses, I tried to think about how students would respond to such a textbook. There's a lot of information offered by the course, but we don't have to cover all of them during these two weeks. When I first landed on the course, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content and readings available. This week, I've learned to take it slowly, thanks to fellow #CCourses colleague, Tania Sheko, who blogged about learning "slowly" as an art to cultivate. She herself had read the New York Times article by Rosenbloom and compared learning at a museum to learning from #CCourses. Brilliant remix and repurposing. I believe we have to prepare our students in a certain way about the difference between a regular course and a cMOOC that is a next-gen text.

So I've tried to savor Unit 3 and consequently, it's taken me a while to post this piece. Since we were learning how to think like the web, I thought about how I was learning by being more conscious about where I had been fluttering around the web. The following sketch sums it up.

Note: Papa and Mama, this is my first drawing/sketchnote since your passing. It is dedicated to you both with much love. 

  • I read a few articles from Unit 3, notably Jon Udell's writings and his fascinating screencast of how volunteers created the Heavy Metal Umlaut Wikipedia page. 
  • I was in and out of the webinar hosted by the panel of Unit 3 facilitators. Gardner Campbell likened Jon Udell's phrase, "awakening grains of sand" to the powerful learning that can happen when people connect and realize that a gap in their knowledge can be filled by bits of information published by other participants on the web. And that these bits of information can amount to a lot of learning over time; learning that is self-directed and interest-driven. I heard Gardner use the phrase, "virtual beach" to refer to the web, hence my attribution of that quote to both. Let me know if I've misquoted anyone. 
  • What really helped me a lot during this Unit was reading some blogposts of #CCourses learners and commenting on their blogs. These led to a bit of conversation which made me feel that the course wasn't static but alive and filled with interesting people who were figuratively, pollinating other plants to facilitate fertile development. 
  • Visiting these blogs led me to new articles and books, such as the quirky publication edited by Paper Monument, Draw it with your eyes closed: The art of the art assignment, which I discovered by reading Life Speed Bumps blog by Laura Jones. You can check my sketchnotes to see the two other blogs I visited and documented. Of course, there are blogs I visited and did not leave behind any comments, sorry!
  • I love the #DailyConnect feature. I used the Quozio app to create my nugget:

  • Last but not least, this Unit motivated me to read the article, The impact of open textbooks on secondary science learning outcomes, in the latest Educational Researcher, 43(7). The drive to find data that heighten and validate the power of open resources is critical. I will write a bit more about this later. I don't want to make this post longer than it should be though.
Tomorrow, we will have our Connected Courses Meetup. Maybe I'll have more to add to this draft.

Oct 23, 2014: Sorry if you tried commenting and your comment vanished. I had the embedded comment form which I've now removed. If you sign in as Anonymous, Blogger will make you pass the Captcha test even though I've turned it off. It's an added layer of security they have imposed. I can't do anything about it. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

525600 minutes

[Note: Have you watched Rent, the Musical? That's where the title of this blogpost comes from.]

I returned to work this week. At one of our meetings, we discussed how we would measure the impact of our work and how we would report it. Traditionally, we think about impact in terms of productivity, time spent (number of consultations!), the importance of the project, and response to the effort. A whole field is devoted to systematically researching how we assess and measure employee productivity-- human resource development and/or management, so I need not belabor this point.

In part, due to recent events in my life, I've thought a lot about the measure of one's life. It got me thinking about this song below.

Seasons of Love

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights
In cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.

In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love? Measure in love


Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand journeys to plan
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?

In truths that she learned
Or in times that he cried
In bridges he burned
Or the way that she died ...


So how about using love as a measure?

But Yin, what does that look like in the workplace? 

Love shows up at work, as ...

Passion. Creativity. Quality.

Sharing and Giving. Learning.

Lyrically, over "cups of coffee," "in laughter, in strife."

But Yin, these are all very abstract. 

Apparently, there is Unmistakable Evidence. Inc magazine had a writeup about 15 revealing signs you genuinely love what you do.

How many of their statements do you agree with or not?

#1 Yup, so many things I want to do!
#2 is the reason why I'm back even though my physician says I should stay away!
#7 Depends on the type of meeting, :)

So love for your work will show!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

MCOs of Learning and Instruction

[This is my first post for #ccourses!]

One area of research learning scientists is concerned with is what Reigeluth and Merrill (1978; Reigeluth, 1983) call MCO variables in instruction; Methods (teaching strategies; manipulate-able by instructors and learning designers), Conditions (e.g. disciplinary goals, constraints, student characteristics; not manipulate-able) and (desired) Outcomes.

One of Unit 1's readings by Randy Bass (2012) reminded me of MCOs and the what and how to improve learning in these times. He put forth some changes instructors and institutions would need to make in light of the current learning and instructional conditions (possibilities!) and desired outcomes for learning in higher education.

Desired Outcome

Bass wrote that higher education was in a transitional stage, moving from an instructional to a learning paradigm, citing Barr and Tagg (1995) for that insight.

I want to extend this thought by adding that critical pedagogists have advocated for an approach to treat the student as a co-creator of knowledge for a considerable time. As a teacher, one of my desired outcomes of learning is for the student to recognize that his/her uniqueness is treasured. For this, I thank a teacher (or two) in my years of education who practiced the content (as John Seeley Brown was cited in the article as saying) and challenged me with questions such as, "Where is your voice in this writing? I want to hear it."

Paolo Freire (1970/1993; Pedagogy of the Oppressed) is opposed to the dichotomy of the teacher as the content expert and the student as a receptacle waiting passively to be filled by the teacher's content. He believes in dialogue, where "no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught. People teach each other, mediated by the world, by the cognizable objects which in banking education are "owned" by the teacher" (Freire, 1970/1993, p. 80).

[Add note here about bell hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins)]

However, expecting students to be co-creators of knowledge is not frequently as well-received as we think it would be, by the students themselves, and, sometimes, their parents. This leads to the question I have:
  • How do we prepare students to practice "learning to be" co-creators of knowledge and courageously take ownership of their learning? I'm aware that there are a few subsystems here that we are impinging on in the ecosystem of education: students, faculty, leadership/administration (at multiple levels), programs/departments, parents, accreditation agencies. Yes, I honestly believe that there are some students that need to be inducted into a new way of learning.  
Image taken from Greer, M. & Rubinstein, B. (1978). Will the real teacher
please stand up? A primer in humanistic education. 2nd Ed. Santa Monica, CA: Goodyear Pub.
Image Description: 4 circles (What I want to teach, what I want to learn,
what you want to learn, what you want to teach) overlap in the middle (What we
discover together). Mary Greer and Bonnie Rubinstein's names are printed at the bottom.

Methods of Instruction/Teaching

Having established the desire to put integrated learning design, experiential, and participatory learning as a vision of the reinvented curriculum in the post-course era, Bass offers a team-based design of instruction (as opposed to an individualistic approach). He shares a version articulated by Patricia Iannuzzi, Dean of Libraries at University of Nevada-Las Vegas. The team could consist of co-instructors such as writing center specialists, librarians, instructional technologists and others.

It has been argued that piecemeal changes, as opposed to systemic change, will not be sustainable in the long run. However, for transformation to happen, Bass makes a strong and valid point, that present conditions for informal self-directed learning can no longer be ignored. It is not that courses can never be the site of high impact practices, but we have to think beyond the notion that the formal learning space has to be the primary place of learning. It is no longer so in an era where students can google for content, interact with people from all corners of the globe, learn on the go and even have their own online study rooms to learn together.

The questions I have are:
  • What and how do you sequence, synthesize and organize different macro and micro teaching strategies across fields and disciplines to make the learning as seamless as possible in a third space?  
  • Are teachers ready for this? Boundary crossing entails relinquishment and constant negotiation. What is our role in helping them get ready for this?

Someone asked, How do you assess such “messy” (participatory) learning?

Bass has given sort of an answer in his statement, "I don't know if every college course has to function like this." That is, the new learning design could be a blend of various learning and teaching strategies. Connected learning can thus be assessed along a variety of parameters (besides the networked participatory feature) as distinguished by its other features of being interest-driven, production-centered, academically oriented and peer-supported.

I close with a reminder of the sort of learning we desire to inspire in our students, found in a book I brought back from a recent Singapore trip:

Quote by Arthur Combs. In Greer & Rubinstein (1978, p. xxv)

Image Description:
From "What Can Man Become?" by Arthur W. Combs
The kind of openness characteristic of the truly adequate, fully functioning personality the experts are describing for us comes about as a consequence of the individual's own feeling of security in himself. It is a product of his feeling that he is important, that he counts, that he is a part of the situation and the world in which he is moving. This feeling is created by the kind of atmosphere in which he lives and works. It is encouraged by atmospheres we are able to create in the classroom and the halls and laboratories that help young people to develop a feeling of trust in themselves. 
What causes a person to feel outside, undermines and destroys his feeling of trust? Differences must be respected and encouraged, not merely tolerated .... The goal of education must be the increasing uniqueness of people, not increasing likeness. It is the flowering of individuality we seek, not the production of automatons. This means differences of all kinds must be encouraged, appreciated, valued. Segregation is not only socially undesirable; it is demoralizing and diminishing as well ....
This kind of openness we seek in the free personality requires a trust in self and this means to me, we need to change the situation we sometimes find in our teaching where the impression is given the student that all the answers worth having lie "out there." I believe it is necessary for us to recognize that the only important answers are those which the individual has within himself, for these are the only ones that will ever show up in his behavior ....

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dancing in the Rain

Reentering blogosphere with a happy song and a feel-good story about the impact of YouTube.

Bethany Mota was a victim of cyberbullying as a younger teen (she's 18 now!). Instead of moping, she turned to YouTube to find her voice. Bethany is now a social media star with nearly 7.5 million subscribers to her channel, and dances with talented dance pro, Derek Hough, on Dancing with the Stars. Last night, she shared these stories in her Most Memorable Year of Her Life dance. To the tune of Colbie Caillat's Try, Bethany shows how social media can sometimes be abused, but she chose to flip the negativity into something positive. She thrived.

Here's the other happy song I was talking about!