Providing Structure and Space to Learn

Besides gaining knowledge about the mechanics of how to set up an online course, I learnt a few important truths about learning from my experience of the course.

One of the insights has to do with letting go as a teacher.

Reading Sue’s blog post gave me an idea about the need to provide support for learning, but not so much that it paradoxically cancels out the good we intend to do.  Sue says,

“I have struggled with who I am as a “Teacher”.  I am a trainer, spoon feeding information for those to do their jobs.  A teacher brings students to the level of thinking for themselves…nurturing critical thinkers.  A very big part of me now questions my training.”

I agree with Sue. We feel our responsibility is to teach. So we teach our students to death.

Yet, in my experience of the course, I think the best kind of learning happens when the teacher provides some guidance, and then gives me lots of space to go off and do my own thinking, and do my own thing. I found that I was learning optimally when the teacher wasn’t killing me with teaching.

It seems to me that the best kind of learning is provided when there is some structure, and then a lot of space to explore. I think the quote below aptly describes the importance of providing support for autonomous learning within any kind of teaching-learning situation, regardless of whether it is an online or f2f environment:

Every truth has four corners; as a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three.


In short – let the students do the work. This is the best way to learn. This principle, I think, has been demonstrated in this course. And I intend to pursue it in my own course. I see the value of giving the students both structure and space.

In letting go, we free our students to experience the joy of learning. The ultimate job of the teacher is to liberate the students to learn, and this is something I experienced in the course.

Albert Einstein once said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”

Joy (4)

What Helped: Setting Conditions for Flow

“What helped your learning?”

I spent an extraordinary amount of time and energy working on this course. I believe I invested more time, energy and attention than was officially required. I am convinced that there were several factors which sustained my focus and channeled my energies so purposefully in this course. One factor is my own interest in developing skills and knowledge which I consider invaluable for my personal and professional development. Another significant factor is the conditions created within this course which enabled me to consistently perform at an optimal level.

I will discuss the factors which helped my learning within the framework of Flow Psychology proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. The author defines “flow” as the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity (Csíkszentmihályi, 1990). He adds that flow is completely focused motivation and a single-minded immersion and represents the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning” (Csíkszentmihályi, cited in Goleman, 2005, p.91).

This definition of flow accurately describes my experience of learning in this course.

In this Wikipedia article, the writer(s) summarize some of the factors proposed by Csíkszentmihályi, which are said to characterize an experience of flow. I will quote the factors verbatim as a basic framework for my discussion.

1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one’s skill set and abilities). Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high (Csíkszentmihályi, 1997).

  • Clear set of goals and expectations

From the outset, the course documents and the various assessment rubrics clearly defined the level of performance which was expected of me. In the first week, the class took part in discussions. When the exercises was taking place, we were constantly being moved a notch higher by the instructor, who kept reminding the class of the characteristics of a “4-point” discussion. She pointed out gaps in the performance, and gradually (actually quite suddenly) brought the level up to the expected level. The level was high, it was challenging, but it was not beyond my capabilities. It was just slightly beyond what I could achieve, at that point. But with practice, I was able to reach the target within a short period of time.

Writing the blog was also an activity in which I was challenged to do better. For the first blog, I received a paltry 10 points out of a possible 40 points. However, after the prompt feedback, and a suggestion to re-read the rubric in order to review the expected level of performance, I quickly improved. Once I knew the goals and expectations, I rapidly progressed, and my performance improved significantly.

The clear set of goals and expectations also provided a challenging target for developing my own course. I knew right from the beginning that I was expected to demonstrate creativity and mindfulness in the structuring of my activities, and also precision in communicating my instructions. Some expectations which were not communicated directly in writing were communicated through course observations. From observing those exemplar courses, I became aware of the standard which I needed to set for my own course. The goals and expectations were also set from experiencing the course in which I was directly participating. I knew that this was the level which was expected.

With these goals repeatedly communicated in various ways throughout the course, I knew that excellence was the target. It was unambiguous.

  • Level and sequence of tasks

The tasks were also set a level which was challenging and was constantly nudging me and my classmates towards the ultimate target of excellence. I have taken many courses in my academic life, but this was the course that best matched my skills, knowledge and interests. The level was set a little higher than my current level. However because the tasks were sequenced from easy to difficult, I was gradually able to progressively move forwards. There were no big leaps required, just a series of small jumps ahead to help me achieve at a higher level. This was the way the course activities were structured. In the end, I gained sufficient confidence that I will be able to perform at the required level.

2. Concentrating: A high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).

The huge task of building the course, which would have been overwhelming if not properly scaffolded, was broken into smaller, manageable chunks. This allowed an intense amount of concentration to be channeled into building parts of the course. My attention was harnessed and focused only on what was essential at the moment module by module. This was evident in the building of the course documents, which then led into laying out one module, then sketching out course activities for the entire course, etc. which was all done part by part, enabling concentration on just one area at a time.

The progressive and developmental structure of the course also meant that each module allowed me to work and concentrate on one particular aspect of building my own course. My range of focus was deliberately narrowed by the instructor so that I could concentrate on a relevant aspect.

3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.

When I came to Module 4, I was on a roll! I had benefited from the initial feedback and I knew that if I trimmed the number of activities, I would be headed in the right direction. I tremendously enjoyed Module 4 because suddenly, all my skills seemed to come together, and I could apply what I had learnt in very concrete ways. It was truly a merging of action and awareness. I think time to work uninterrupted is essential in order to achieve this state. So it was a good idea to prepare a slot where students can be on their own to explore, discover, experiment and apply what they have learnt. Time to work independently is vital for flow to occur. Module 4 provided time and space to work, so that action and awareness, the understanding of theory and practice can be consolidated.

4. Distorted sense of time, one’s subjective experience of time is altered.

More than once, I worked through exhaustion and sleepiness because I was so absorbed in what I was doing. I think it had to do with my perception of the value of my endeavor. I perceived I was doing something worthwhile and imperative for my personal and professional development. I believe a good course provides a student with a sense that what they are learning is going to benefit them and their students. And ultimately, I persisted, and my sense of time was distorted because I was thoroughly enjoying myself!

5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).

At crucial points in the course, I received feedback that enabled me to immediately take action to improve my performance. Initially my discussion posts were lackluster and my overwhelming number of activities was threatening to kill my students. Besides this, my first blog was abysmal. After Alex’s immediate and perceptive feedback, I took serious measures to address these gaps in my performance. As a result of the direct and immediate feedback, I significantly improved in these areas. And of course, I also progressed and felt encouraged because of the positive feedback to my work.

6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).

This course was challenging pedagogically and technologically. It demanded a whole array of skills and knowledge. However, the best thing about the design of the course was that it catered for a whole range of skills and knowledge. If students didn’t want to do techy stuff, they didn’t have to. But if they chose to, they could. The requirement of designing a course also demanded a sophisticated understanding of pedagogical principles. Again, the design of the course was such that, if you wanted to design a blockbuster course, you could. But the option was there to design a very simple course as well. The course was therefore designed to accommodate a range of skills to ensure the balance between ability level and challenge.

7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.

This was very evident when students were tasked with designing a course of their choice. This is very much in keeping with the theories of motivation which suggest that people become more invested and engaged when they feel a greater sense of personal control over their own situations and activities

8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.

I worked hours and hours and hours even when I was not really required to do so. If I worked at half the level of intensity, it would have been sufficient to get me through. So why do I do what I did? No other reason other than the activity of building my own course was intrinsically rewarding. Howard Gardner asserts that ‘You learn at your best when you have something you care about and can get pleasure in being engaged in.’

In conclusion, I believe that this course created the right conditions which facilitated flow.  I hope that I will be able to create a similar environment in my own course to inspire my students to higher levels of learning and achievement.

Joy (4)


Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, New York: Harper and Row.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life. New York: BasicBooks.

Wikipedia entry: Flow Psychology at

Finding flow: the psychology of engagement with everyday life

Addressing Teaching Presence In My Online Course

In this posting, I would like to analyze my planning, my course activities and certain functionalities I have built into the course in terms of teaching presence. I will discuss some of the difficulties I have faced and some of the problem solving strategies I have used within Garrison’s framework of “teaching presence”, as interpreted by Shea, Pickett, and Pelz (2003), based on the work of Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000),

According to Garrison et al (2000), “Teaching presence is the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the realization of personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes. Teaching presence has three components: Instructional Design and Organization, Facilitating Discourse, and Direct Instruction” (Garrison et al, 2000, cited in Shae et al, 2003, p.65).

I would like to examine the extent to which I have, or have not, demonstrated teaching presence in my course at this point of its development.

Instructional Design and Organization.

a. Setting the curriculum – clearly communicated important course outcomes.

A couple of days ago, I reviewed Alex’s checklist and I discovered that I had not included a course overview in Module 1. I set about doing it and I realized that it was very clumsily formulated because I initially did not have as clear an idea as I have now as to what I would like the students to do. So I practically rewrote the whole course overview. It has become much sleeker and more concise. I think the students will have a fair idea what they’re signing up for.

I think besides clearly communicating course outcomes, it is also important to give students an idea of the activities they will do during the course. These were not very clearly communicated either, but this has since been addressed.

Until about a week and a half ago, the number of activities in each module was still being finalized. I also did not have an efficient tracking system. So I addressed the problem by devicing a way of  tracking the number of activities more efficiently, so that I will know the exact number of “deliverables” the students have to hand in each module. I created an Excel activities tracker. So now, I not only know the exact number of activities in each module. I also know how I will assess each activity and the number of points I will award for each.

b. Designing Methods – provide clear instructions on how to participate in course learning activities

I have done a massive ‘cleanup” of instructions in the last week. I have tried to be very precise, and I have repeated information in several key areas, especially the students need to get it right. I have tried to keep certain procedures, like publishing of Google documents consistent so that I establish a certain rhythm that becomes increasingly familiar for students as they progress each module. I have kept instructions for the blog and discussions almost identical.

As for instructions – I will do a final check tomorrow. However, I have been clarifying my instructions each time I revisit a page. I think I am on to my second or third iteration. I am quite pleased that I have managed to identify certain imprecise instructions and improved on them.

c. Establishing Time Parameters

Time parameters was something I initially did not considered well in planning my activities. This led to Alex has mentioning that I am overloading my students in terms of the massive amount of time they have to spend doing each module. I eliminated this problem with the Excel activities tracker I created. I know the exact amount of workload my students have as I considered this very carefully when I was using the tracker to keep order.

e. Establishing Netiquette

Netiquette is also an area I have not considered at all. I still don’t have a netiquette document. I think I will put it in the “Interaction” section in the course documents. I have always assumed that that people will be polite and considerate towards their classmates. I have never come across any rudeness or in my own experience of online learning. However, I will not assume. I will establish guidelines for polite forms of online behavior by preparing some form of documentation which I will include with the course documents.

d. Utilizing the medium effectively – provided help in taking advantage of the online environment to assist learning, eg. provided clear instructions on how to participate in online discussion forums

Yes I have provided extremely clear instructions on how to participate in online discussion forums and also expectations for blog entries. This is due to the fact that Alex allowed me to “borrow” her set of instructions which have been tested and proven effective. I have witnessed the results for myself. This section has therefore, been excellently addressed. No problems here.

Facilitating Discourse

Another component of teaching presence in the Anderson and colleagues model is facilitating discourse.

According to Garrison et al (2000, cited in Shea et al, 2003, p. 70), “the task of facilitating discourse “is necessary to maintain learner engagement and refers to focused and sustained deliberation that marks learning in a community of inquiry”. At this point, it is difficult to assess this section of the course as the course has not gone live yet. However, it is still possible to evaluate mechanisms I have put in place so far in order to facilitate interaction between facilitator and student; and student to student. While the “soft scaffolding” (identifying areas of agreement/disagreement, seeking to reach consensus, reinforce student contributions, setting climate for learning, drawing in participants, prompting discussion, assessing the efficacy of the process) cannot be done at this point, it is still possible to do a preliminary assessment of the “hard scaffolding” measures taken to facilitate discourse.

In terms of “prompting discussion” I have put in place a discussion per module. In order to provide opportunities for interaction I have already set up a “Community Center” which utilizes the functionality of the forum for various communication purposes. This is also an attempt at addressing the social presence factor in the course.

Direct Instruction

a. Present content/Questions – Present content or questions that help students to learn. Provide opportunities for participants to teach each other.

This has to do with developing meaningful and focused prompt questions for the blog and also discussion forums. I have tried to identify meaningful issues related to the topics of study in each module.  I will need to review my prompts because while some are good, there are others which need more work. I am actually “done”, but I will review some of my prompt questions, especially for my blog activities.

In terms of providing opportunities for participants to teach other, I have included discussion rubrics that specify that that the students are required to provide links to good materials in their posts. The students are also required to review, comment, respond in ways that enlighten and teach the community. I have also specified the higher level of thinking students are required to demonstrate in order to help each other to learn more effectively.

In terms of providing opportunities for the students to teach each other, I have also included some cooperative learning activities which involve publishing and pair-and-share activities as an attempt to enable students to learn from one another. I will not include group work, as I believe that directly transplanting f2f strategies to the online environment could be counter productive in this instance. The online environment requires a different way of looking at collaboration. But there are ample opportunities for viewing and commenting on one another’s written products in the spirit of reciprocal teaching.

b. Focus the discussion on specific issues in a way that assists learning

In terms of focusing the discussion on specific issues, I think I will need to reexamine my prompts for discussions. This is so that the questions are narrow enough to be thorough but not so wide that discussions will go off on a tangent, as discussions can. I need to synchronize my discussion forums at this point because I don’t I have identified the issues very thoroughly yet. I will need to return to my activities planning grid and begin to line up my issues for so that discussions in one module will have some connection to the next.

c. Confirm understanding – provide explanatory feedback that assisted learning

This area involves soft scaffolding, which cannot be addressed at this point as the course has not gone live.

d. Diagnose misconceptions

Some misconceptions I intend to address have to do with the fact that project based learning takes up a lot of time and is very difficult to pull off. I hope to address this in module 4, where CPs work on their project. I intend to make the project so simple and so d0-able that they will be convinced that it can be done. I have drastically scaled down the demands of the project. Instead of 5 wiki pages, I have decided that the CPs will only produce three wiki pages. I had intended for them to also produce a video, but I think that plan may have to be shelved. I had hoped to make the video activity optional, but lately, there has been a lot of bad press about optional activities, so, I think it will have to be done in another course.

e. Inject knowledge from diverse sources

I have attempted to provide links to resources which I think may be helpful to my CPs. Specifically, I have included material to help my students build their understanding of what project based learning is.

I initially faced a situation which has made me unsure about how much or how little help to provide. Alex provided feedback which suggested that I may be doing too much, and providing my students with too much help in terms of information provision. I thought that it was my job as a teacher to help provide the best resources. But apparently it is better to allow them to do some discovering and sourcing of information on their own. So in response to that I will reduce my number of recommended links, although I feel rather uncomfortable about this.

I think it is necessary that I have some confidence in my learners’ ability to manage some of their own learning. Andragogy!

I have also included video resources and also video tutorials in order to provide information in various formats. This is an attempt to provide interest in the range of resources used and also to cater to diverse learning styles.

In conclusion, I think I have tried to take into account as many points in the checklist as possible, but there has been just too much to do. I have one more day to check. But somehow, I know that things will be OK, because I have been addressing problems, filling in gaps and troubleshooting as I went along. I believe this is my second or third iteration of some of the materials. I am cautiously hopeful that my final check tomorrow will not give me a heart attack because of some glaring oversight. And if there are some glaring oversights, I hope to address them before they are brought to my attention.


Brown, R. E. (2001). The process of community-building in distance learning classes. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5(2), 18-35.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T, and Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 1-19.

Shea, P. J., Pickett, A. M. & Pelz, W. E. (2003). A follow-up investigation of “teaching presence” in the SUNY learning network. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(2), 61-80.


Social Presence in My Online Course: How Am I Doing?

What thoughts do you have about moving from theory (social, cognitive and teaching presence) to practice (building it into your online course)?

I came across a checklist in this article which provides a simple by sufficiently comprehensive framework for evaluating my course for social presence. The framework is by Aragon (2003) but has been adapted by Lowenthal (date unavailable, in press).

Lowenthal (p. 2) quotes the following writers on their definition of “social presence”.

“Gunawardena (1995) defined social presence as the degree to which people are perceived as “real” in CMC.

Garrison et al. (2000)…defined social presence as the ability of students “to project themselves socially and emotionally, as ‘real’ people” (p. 94).

Tu and McIsaac (2002) defined social presence as “the degree of feeling, perception, and reaction of being connected by CMC” to another person (p. 140)”.

I will use the checklist I mentioned above to evaluate the measures I have taken/not taken to establish social presence in my course. In my evaluation, I will incorporate related items from Alex’s course development checklist as well.

Strategies to Establish and Maintain Social Presence (Aragon, 2003, cited in Lowenthal, in press)

  • Welcome Messages

I have developed welcome messages in both text and audio. For audio, I used Voki. I tried to make my avatar warm, friendly and informal. Those zany glasses are something I will never be caught alive in, but it adds to the approachable persona I want to project. I want my students to look at the avatar and be delighted and surprised, in the same way I was when I saw and heard Alex’s avatar. I used a red frame to give my site a dash of colour so that the visual atmosphere is lively, bright and inviting.” In the welcoming message, I also attempted to come across as accessible and interested. This will set the tone that I intend to keep throughout the course. In keeping with the friendly mood, the Voki background is a swimming pool with palm trees! I have attempted to set a welcoming atmosphere in my course.

I think a welcoming online environment is vital, not only at the beginning of the course. It should permeate the entire course. It is established by the instructors tone. In Alex’s checklist, she listed four items which I tried to address. I did attempt to create a personal, interesting and inviting tone through the course. In terms of language, I framed my instructions using pronouns like “you” in order to speak directly to the students. I eliminated structures like “students will” in favour of “you will”. I also used “we” many times throughout the course to give the students a sense of community.

I will re-examine the tone of the language because I suspect that some of the instructions sound a little bit curt. It is difficult to balance between being precise and being warm.

  • Incorporate audio

When I reviewed my course, I found it very silent – like a library at 8.00 pm in summer. It felt like there was no one there. The environment lacked presence. This is the surest way to induce a feeling of transactional distance between the students and myself. As soon as I became aware of it, I immediately set out to do something about. I decided that for each module, I will introduce at least one personalized audio file, either in the form of a Voki, a voicethread or a screencast. According to Joyce & Brown (2009), “an increased sense of presence leads to a better perception of social connection”.  So far, I have either audio or video in every module except for the last module. I plan to record something soon, although I am not sure what it will be.

Multimedia Web 2.0 tools have been a boon for my class in terms of enhancing social presence. However, some of the tools I used were not interactive, but rather presentation tools like One True Media and Jing. However, they still play a vital role in creating a sense that there is a human teacher present. This presence is essential in helping students to feel they are that communicating with people instead of objects (Short, Williams, and Christie, 1976, cited in Joyce & Brown, 2009). Other Web 2.0 communication tools which I have used to promote interaction and communication are blogs, voicethread and diigo (social bookmarking). These tools have proven to be remarkable effective in my present course and I am convinced that their inclusion in my own program will yield encouraging results, provided I manage the pedagogy well.

Mutimedia tools have also provided me with a channel for personalizing my course, thus enhancing social presence. I have attempted to create little multimedia pieces through Jing and also One True Media (with Audacity) as a way of showing my students that I am personally invested and interested in the course. I have put in extra personal effort because I want to demonstrate to them that they have a serious teacher who is genuinely interested in getting them to learn something. And to love what they are learning.

And, of course, I want the little pieces of multimedia to communicate to the students that “I love this stuff. I love doing this!” I want them to be enthusiastic, and I truly believe that enthusiasm is caught, not taught (ie. Alex). And of course, these little pieces communicate “there is a teacher here”.

Here is an incomplete sample I created as part of a Jing tutorial on using an online video tool.

  • Include student profiles

This was something I forgot about until I went through this list. So, I added a reminder in the ice-breaking area for students to update their profile with a recent, informal picture, and a little write-up about themselves. I personalized the reminder by ending with my signature in a flash pink shade. Nice!

  • Limit class size

This isn’t usually a problem for me, but I will keep this in mind when I set student numbers in my future courses. I am wondering what the optimal class size is. 10 to 12 students? In my face to face classes I usually manage 24 students. Obviously, in an online class, this is too many.

  • Structure collaborative learning activities

There is no group work, but I have structured collaboration into the discussion forum and also the publishing of written work. In the discussion rubric, I reminded students that even as they learn, they will collaborate by being teachers to one another. I have considered social presence in the publishing of written work. The viewing and commenting on written products are a deliberate measure to create a sense of community among my learners.

  • Use emoticons

Strangely, I used an emoticon only once – in the reminder to edit the student profiles. I guess I will use it more when I am interacting with students.

  • Allow students options for addressing the instructor

In the contact information, I listed various ways I can be contacted – through Moodle mail, and also by phone for emergencies. I have also placed an “Ask a question link” in each module and in every page, so that the students know that I am accessible. They must feel that that the teacher is present and will respond to them in the same way a teacher would in a f2f environment.

The author also provided other items which I cannot address at this moment because my course has not gone live.  I look forward to adding to this list when I actually begin interacting with my students.

In conclusion, I am really happy that some of the things I planned at the beginning have become real. At some points as I was building the course, I was mechanically fitting in measures to improve the social presence in without much reflection. I think it was only in the last week, when I checked for social presence, that the lack of it became very apparent. This writing exercise was useful in that it has foregrounded the theoretical aspect of social presence, after I had been doing the practical, hands-on building in the last week or so.

I began with theory, I did the practice, and now I am revisiting the theory with a new understanding. How exciting things will be when this goes live. There will be new dimensions added to my understanding of social presence in an online course.


Joyce, K. M. & Brown, A. (2009). Enhancing social presence in online learning: Mediation strategies applied to social networking tools. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(4).

Lowenthal, P. R. (in Press). Social presence. In P. Rogers, G. Berg, J. Boettcher, C. Howard, L. Justice, & K. Schenk (Eds.), Encyclopedia of distance and online learning (2nd ed.). Information Science Reference.


It’s tough..!

In this post, I will respond to some of the prompt questions to help me reflect on the process of being an online learner and also a fledgling online designer.

Who are you and why are you that way as an educator and a learner?

According to Garrison et al (2000), “Teaching presence is the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the realization of personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes. Teaching presence has three components: Instructional Design and Organization, Facilitating Discourse, and Direct Instruction” (Garrison et al, 2000, cited in Shae et al, 2003, p.65).

The concept of teaching presence has actually given me a way to describe what I do as an educator, and why I love my work so much. I have always considered myself an instructional designer, even when I didn’t have the term for it. From my earliest days as a trainee-teacher, till today, I see the process of designing and organizing instruction as the things I love best about my work, and the reason I have worked so intensely, for so long with the amount of enthusiasm that has not waned much from the time I started out. I have been fully engaged from day one. This is teaching presence. Ha, my experience can now be described using a technical term!

What’s new in the equation is the “facilitating discourse” part. I have never seen my role as someone who facilitates discourse. This surprising role has never been clearly defined until now. I think the online medium is forcing me to reevaluate my role in making it possible for groups of people to communicate and learn from each other. In the face-to-face environment, I tended to go into some kind of automatic mode and plan a discussion as a matter of course, without really thinking about it as facilitating discourse. But the online environment has foregrounded my role as a facilitator of discourse, and I need to consider how I will best do this.

Besides considering how to best to facilitate discourse, I have also been confronted with the challenge of enabling my students to collaborate productively online. This is where I became starkly aware of one point: You can’t transplant something that works well in a f2f setting into an online environment. In my project-based learning classes, groupwork was routine. It was easy. Just design the group activity, set the groups, and off they go. It worked very well. I tried to recreate this exact strategy in the online environment but it became a logistic nightmare. I was told in a nice way, that I was setting myself up for failure. And I agree. I learned that what works well f2f may not work in an online environment. It has become really clear to me that I need to re-calibrate my understanding of what it means to collaborate online. There are different forms of collaboration which do not necessarily have to involve group work.

Another additional role which I have had to consider is that of community builder. Building a sense of community was never really a problem for me in my face-to-face classes. Somehow, people just gelled. However, in an online environment, building a sense of community takes on a new urgency as isolation can be a cause for learners to become disengaged, and even drop out of courses. According to Brown (2005) in her article “The Process Of Community-Building In Distance Learning Classes”, “The process of forming a community of learners is an important issue in distance learning because it can affect student satisfaction, retention, and learning” (p.18).  A sense of community has to be consciously built and factored in by the designer. It does not happen as easily as it does in the f2f environment. Having experienced a wonderful sense of community, and seeing how it is done, I do feel that I have a fair idea of the basic ingredients that go into creating a sense of community. However, Alex has set a high, high standard, and I don’t know I have the energy to sustain the community building effort, even if I knew how to do it!

What has been most difficult or uncomfortable and why?

One of the problems I have had is to present my ideas before they are finished. This is something I have never felt comfortable doing because my ideas evolve very quickly. So by the time another person reads and responds, I have already moved on to the third or fourth iteration of the idea. In the meantime, I have not communicated the changes to the person who is reading version one. My present ideas never look like version 1! The result is that the ideas I handed up in the proposed learning activities resemble very little of what I actually have now.

I do understand the need to present my ideas when they are not fully developed, in order to receive feedback, but I usually do better when my ideas have had some time to develop beyond the first baby steps. The problem is, I am not comfortable showing a draft of my ideas because they do not fully reflect the full potential of what those ideas could become, give more time and space to develop. However, I realize that in real life, this is a process which has to happen especially when you are working with a committee, or a team of people vetting your project, or your instructor, for that matter.

What have you observed about yourself during this process?

One of the things I have observed about myself is that I am able to respond positively to feedback, even if the feedback is not so good. I may be in shock for a day or two, but after the initial setback,  then I am able to rally, try to understand what the other person is saying, and take the necessary measures to act on the feedback.

After I was given the feedback about the poor tracking of student workload and overwhelming amount of activities, I have taken very serious steps to address the problem. Many activities which were optional, and not part of the grading have been removed. The ones which have remained are the ones which will receive grades. As a result of this stringent streamlining, the modules now actually look better organized and the activities are more trackable. I now have some idea how I am going to track and grade each activity. There used to be ‘overlaps” in activity boundaries. I have identified these activities without clear boundaries and have either eliminated them or collapsed them into one activity. Due to the feedback, and the action I have taken, my modules and activities are much, much leaner than before.

I value feedback and am responsive to it, and that is a good thing. It has significantly improved the quality of my work.

I am looking forward to building my modules. I am getting the hang of it. Given more time and practice, I believe I am taking some positive baby steps in becoming a full fledged online designer!


Brown, R. E. (2001). The process of community-building in distance learning classes. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5(2), 18-35.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T, and Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 1-19.

Shea, P. J., Pickett, A. M. & Pelz, W. E. (2003). A follow-up investigation of “teaching presence” in the SUNY learning network. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(2), 61-80.


Less is More! The difficulties of transferring theory into practice…

What has been most difficult or uncomfortable and why? How can you use these insights in the design of your own course? What has challenged you the most in this course?

“I have to cover it all”

It has been difficult reconciling my conflicting feelings about “letting go” and doing a little less, and keeping to the prescribed syllabus materials of the Intel Teach programme. This programme is a “franchise”. All franchises have a set menu. The basic understanding is that anyone who teachers this franchise programe is obligated to “cover the material”. This basically means that there is a syllabus which needs to be covered and I feel that I need to cram everything in, even though I feel that it is too much and too overwhelming for the students.

Having said that, I think even the folks at Intel realize that their program is a little overwhelming, and that is why they have streamlined and greatly simplified it for their online version of the course. The “Elements” course is the simplified version of the “Essentials” course. What I was trying to cram online was the “Essentials” course. In the “Elements” online course, there is no group work. That alone should have tipped me off!

Therefore, because of my lack of experience, and my zeal in covering all bases, it has been difficult to decide how much is too much or too little. Being a novice, I fear doing too little because my course will look ‘sparse’. What will people think!!??

I was therefore quite relieved Alex confirmed what I had feared. I was packing in too much. Even before even before Alex provided her completely justified feedback that my course was too packed (“for you Joy, less is more!”) I had taken some measures to explore other methods of collaboration besides group work.   I had earlier shared in the discussion that I have come to realize that too much group work is unrealistic. In the discussion, I proposed several models for collaboration which were more realistic, and which takes into account logistic factors and also human factors.

In fact, I had made the necessary adjustments in the course by systematically identifying the areas which require group work, and redesigning the activities as individual assignments, but with opportunities for collaboration through pair-and share activities. These measures, were, unfortunately, not communicated to Alex in time. In the pair and share activities, the students will collaborate by publishing their individual work and the getting feedback from a partner. The strategy of publishing student work for the whole class to view, and also to get feedback from, is one of the methods recommended for establishing social presence and teaching presence in the course.

This is one of the things I learnt from designing these activities: An online environment is different from a f2f setting. Being able to state it in a theoretical way is not the same as understanding it and translating it into practice. Of course I knew the theory. But when the time came for application in the design of the online course, my knowledge did not transfer well into practical application. This is one of the main problems when there is a failure of the student to  successfully transfer learning, which is basically one of great challenges of teaching.  So basically, what I did initially did was to replicate my f2f activities directly into my online classroom. In my face to face classroom, students worked together literally side-by-side in developing their projects. I tried to recreate this in the online environment. This is where it went wrong. As I feared, and Alex confirmed, this large amount of group work puts a strain on the students and also poses too many logistic difficulties. Perhaps one or two group work activities might work, but not several in each module. It is unrealistic. So I have learnt, in a very concrete and hands-on way, that designing for my online classroom in this instance is different from designing for my face-to face classroom.

Once again, I am reminded that theory and practice need mutual reinforcement. Understanding the theory is one thing. Transferring the theoretical knowledge into action requires experience, reflection, and feedback from others.


Are You Ready?

From the Breeze presentation, the course observations, and my own reflection I gather that there are two kinds of readiness which are pre-requisite conditions for online instruction to take off in any institution: Personal readiness of the instructor and institutional readiness. Ideally these two areas must develop in tandem.

Personal Readiness

On a personal level, readiness takes several forms.

Readiness to Be Open:

“You need to rethink lots of things, to be open to possibilities, opportunities to options, then you’re more likely to be successful,” says Alex.

This kind of openness does not happen as a matter of course. It has to begin with an awareness. This attitude of being open to possibilities, opportunities and options has to be actively worked upon.

I failed to understand this at first. So I found it perplexing that Alex would pursue what I thought was a trivial line of discussion. What do you think is not possible to teach and learn online? I volunteered several bright contributions. I was still unaware of the purpose of this apparently innocuous discussion.

Of course now I know better. That discussion was supposed to challenge a closed mind. Because with a closed mind, we render ourselves unable to be open to possibilities, opportunities to options. A closed mind works against innovation, progress, improvement, expansion. This is a new frontier, and therefore the stance which can reap untold benefits and leanings should be “Let’s explore!”

So the question we should be asking isn’t “What cannot be done?” but rather “How do I make this possible?”

Once someone says “You can’t teach this online” it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The ideas will dry up then and there. The exploration stops. A better question inviting possibilities, opportunities and options would be “How can I find a way for people to learn this, and this, and this, and this, and this online? Let me think, let me explore.” That would be a more productive stance.

That is why that seemingly “silly” discussion was being pursued. I have learnt a useful lesson. I will never again say such and such cannot be taught or learnt online! Instead, my attitude ought to be – Let me think of some models, some novel ways of combining learning in different settings.

I need to be open to possibilities, opportunities, to options. I must put aside my prejudices and temporarily suspend “logical thinking” in favor of creative thinking.

Readiness to Change:

Not everyone comes on board to teach online willingly. But we should never give up on the unwilling ones. Sometimes they are the way they are because they have limited exposure. They are unaware of the options. They think they know, but really – they don’t. In short, they’re ignorant, but don’t know it! I would be gutted if someone gave up on me just because I was ignorant. I was indifferent to online learning because of ill-informed prejudices. Now that I know better, I can change, and so can all those other “unwilling” teachers out there. I am convinced that the best way to help people change is not to give them long speeches about the merits of online learning. Like they say ‘save your breath to cool your soup.” The best way to spark change is to let them attend an effective online course. The operative word being “effective”, because an experience of an ineffective course will further reinforce their prejudices against online learning.

I believe this experiential strategy has been effectively adopted by the SLN, where they get faculty to attend a course, prior to designing their own. I think this strategy has a twin objective – one is to convince faculty that it can work and the other is to, as Alex points out “give them the perspective…to use that perspective in the design of their own courses. (They) must have experience participating in asynchronous discussion, or navigating through. Until then you will never appreciate what the experience is truly like.”

Obviously, from the tone of it, I have taken the all important first step of being convinced that online instruction works. A shift in attitude has occurred, and I am ready to change.

Readiness to Rethink Your Practice:

And now, it is time for a shift in pedagogy.

Building the module activity by activity has forced me to look at the course I thought I knew so well with a fresh perspective.  It is as if I am going in slow motion, examining each and every element, frame by frame. It is a surreal experience. It has absolute slowed the entire process down, enabling me to hold still an element, and examine it anew. T.S Eliot describes the experience well: “We must not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.” This is surely happening to me as I revisit a course I thought I knew so well.

The change of speed – this is one of the stark differences between designing for f2f and online settings. When I was preparing to teach the Intel PBL course face to face, I could plan faster. Now, with all the materials at hand – I still cannot believe how slow I am going. I tell myself, c’mon, you’ve done this before – hurry up already! I can’t seem to speed up. There is so much more thinking to be, so much more preparations to be made in an online environment. With all my materials lined up, it still took an entire week to sequence the first module.  And it took another week to do the second module. I could not believe it.

But this is online teaching. It is slow because you have to cover all bases, and prepare for all eventualities. Your opportunities to soft scaffold are limited by the medium. Everything has to be put in place beforehand. All potential areas of student difficulty have to be anticipated and dealt with before they occur because there are fewer opportunities at soft scaffolding. In an f2f environment, you can deal with anything that comes up on the spot. You can shift you teaching strategy when something is not working, make impromptu decisions, clarity understanding on the spot, prompt, redirect, explain.  In short, you can do contingent teaching much better in a face-to-face setting.

An online environment changes the game. A significant amount of hard scaffolding, has to be done in terms of preparing worksheets, rubrics, tutorials, links to materials, question prompts. This preparation requires visualizing the learning process, from both perspectives – as a student and as an instructor in order to put in place the support materials which the student will need. However, this apparent ‘weakness’ of the online environment, which somewhat impedes soft scaffolding, helps the instructional designer to become a more competent visualizer.

The process of slowing things down, in order to deconstruct the learning sequence, frame by frame, so that necessary preparations can be made to support the online learner will have a profound impact on a the way a teacher prepares for teaching in a face-to-face setting.

Due to my experiences of designing, I am beginning to see how “developing a course is a transformative experience”. I have always been a meticulous planner for my face-to face courses, but this kind of planning really takes it to another level. Right at this moment, I don’t think I will be able to go into an Intel PBL course in a face-to-face setting, and teach it the same way as before. I don’t think I can return to the classroom and teach anything the same way before. Designing an online course has been, for me, a truly transformative experience. It has allowed me not only to reexamine, reformulate and reassess, but to also move forward to innovate and in some ways, to reinvent myself as a teacher.

Institutional Readiness

Institutional readiness requires sever things to be put in place: Staff development and a good, reliable, steady LMs and network.  I would like to discuss some points which are particularly pertinent to my own situation at present.

When I assess my institution’s readiness based on Alex’s sharing on the pre-requisite factors for success, I think we have a lot going for us.

Institutional Support: Time and Commitment

My institution has one of the most important prerequisites in designing a successful online program: Perception. The administration understands that developing courses needs time and personal commitment from the lecturers. Developing courses is our core business and I work with perceptive administrators who understand that an instructor needs time to create a course, and to commit fully to the process, so that the end product does what it is designed to do. And so, we are able to set aside blocks of time to work on our modules. However, this has become increasingly difficult because of the pressures to churn out more courses at regular intervals, sometimes on very short notice. The administrators understand the principle, but when reality hits…

But all in all, I think my institution is still more forward looking, and supportive of setting aside time to work on modules compared to other colleges. We have an energizing and supportive work environment which is comparatively more receptive to innovation than elsewhere. In fact, my colleague has supervised the setting up an LMS, with full support from the administration. Like I said, we have a very forward looking admin, and therefore we have a huge thing going for us in terms of powering ahead with online learning. However, I don’t think my boss will be thrilled to learn that a designer needs to put in 120 hours work to put together a course. Therefore I will need to show research to back this up. But like I mentioned, we are given time to work, and in developing an online course, this will make a significant difference in the quality of the course.

Commitment to Staff Development

My institution has another great thing going for us. It is committed to staff development. There are ample opportunities for staff to develop knowledge and expertise through various kinds of programs. My boss, especially, likes keeping us on the cutting edge. In fact, she was the one who actively advocated online instruction. As a result, faculty will need to be prepared for this shift to an online environment.

Possible Training Model

It is imperative to emplace an effective training model to prepare staff for successful online instruction. Alex has suggested a model which I think holds great promise. Firstly, before staff learn to design a course, they are required to participate in online courses. This is because, according to Alex, instructors must “experience participating in the role of a student in order to give them the perspective…and to use that perspective in the design of their own courses. (They must) experience participating in asynchronous discussion, or navigating through. Until then you will never appreciate what the experience is truly like. Students are overwhelmed, especially when they are doing it for the first time.”

The training model could also include course observation, prior to designing their own courses. As Alex suggests, “Give time to watch and observe a course, watch students participating. Also give them access to experienced faculty…faculty who have been teaching online.” In fact, this is a very viable suggestion, and a theoretically sound one. This is based on the Communities of Practice model developed by Lave and Wenger, where expert members of the community socialize novices through the practice of cognitive apprenticeship. This is consistent with the training model the SLN is based upon, in which other more experienced staff “become peer support for them and provide an additional resource for the online faculty to really have another person to go to, to think through and to get (confidence) that they too will be able to do this.”

The Need to Reexamining Some Policies

Progressive as my institution may be, there are certain practices which may need to be reexamined in order to keep us sharp and effective online.

Instructors Who Develop the Course Must Teach on Them

Alex has also stressed that in order to develop a successful online course, “Faculty must develop the courses themselves. There are different models for online course development. But a good model would be one where the instructor develops the entire course, making decisions about interactivity, content, layout, everything.” Good idea. Besides this, I think teaching a course they have developed themselves gives instructors a sense of ownership. This is imperative for teaching a course convincingly, committedly, and passionately.

Very often the teaching of a course is “franchised”. One person (or a small team) designs, and then 5 different people are assigned to teach the course. This actually happens a lot, but some lecturers mind and some don’t. However, I have always balked at it. I can’t seem to muster a lot of enthusiasm teaching a course in which I have no design input. And I do not like designing a course which is given to others to teach. Teaching is, for me, a deeply personal thing, and I don’t like this “franchising”, cascade method of course design and delivery. It feels too much like McDonalds. A good solution would be to allow instructors to decide if they want to teach a course they did not design, or allow another teacher to teach their course. But in the end, this is a policy matter. However, administrators need to be aware that this is a policy matter that can impact staff morale, and as a result, student learning as well.

Use of the Existing LMS

In the Breeze presentation, Alex mentioned the importance of allowing staff to choose their own LMS. This could be a very, very sticky issue. One problem would be keeping the institution’s courses “under control” within one system. Alex addressed a concerned which might be expressed by administrators. She said “That does not mean chaos and inconsistency across all the courses.” I fully agree.

If, at policy level, certain standardizations are agreed upon, this problem will likely not occur. For example, if it is agreed upon that cognitive engagement through interaction is important, threaded discussions can be factored into the syllabus of every online course. And it should not matter if the threaded discussions are conducted in Angel, or BLS or Moodle, or some other LMS of the instructor’s choice. The principles and content can be agree upon beforehand, in order to establish consistency across courses, but ideally, instructors should have a choice in the LMS which they think best serves the students’ leaning needs.

Another option could be getting instructors to work with the LMS designers so that improvements can be made to the system itself to make it more responsive to what instructors would like it to do. I think administrators will be more open to this option, rather than allowing lecturers to use any system they like! I think this option is less controversial. In the long run, getting input from all quarters to develop a better institutional system could be a valuable learning experience for everyone.

And finally…

Reflecting on my own learning and also institutional implications of implementing online courses has been a useful exercise. It has helped me to connect my personal experience to the wider sphere of my institution. I realize that my own journey as a designer is inextricably linked to the journey of my institution. Everyone who is involved in the process learns – not only the students, but also the instructional designers, the network designers, the technicians, and the administrators. From the presentation and my own reflection, I can see a little more clearly the potential in using the online learning endeavor as a wonderful and meaningful context for personal and professional growth for everyone involved. Managed well, it could be a rallying point for my institution.


Design Decisions: Structuring My Module

Some decisions I have made and some things I have learnt:

Organization Principle

I learnt that there are organization principles not only for the module in general, but also the module contents. I should have known. I have had prior experience designing modules, but it has become very, very clear to me that each designing experience is different from the last. Your prior experiences do not spare you from struggling through subsequent projects. You can transfer some learning to present situations, but each designing experience has unique challenges which your prior experiences may never prepare you for.

So this time, I ran into a snag. I ended up with 2 organizing principles for my module contents, which I had to find a way to reconcile. They both had their own merits and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice either. So I had to decide how to synthesize both

#1 Organization principle from Intel syllabus with

#2 Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction

My grand plan to strictly follow the 9 events of instruction by Gagne in order to establish consistency in my module is not going as planned. The influencing factor is the presence of another previous organization principle which has been imposed by the Intel syllabus.

I discovered that if I had intended to use the nine steps of instruction, I should have done that right from the beginning. Instead, I structured the module based on the basic sequence of the Intel Teach syllabus. This means that I already had an existing structure which looked like this:

PrintscreenIdeally the above organization should have worked perfectly.

Ideally, the plan should have worked, until I suddenly remembered that I had also planned to organize my module content according to Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction.

Therefore I had to make a decision to:

1.     Go vanilla

    This means, if there is no prior existing principle, decide on one right from the beginning, and stick to it.

    If there is already an existing organization principle, like a syllabus, stick to it and design within the recommended sequence.

    If you do the 2 above things, you will avoid the mess I created and had to sort out.

    For me, I had to decide whether to go with the existing Intel syllabus activity sequence or the pick the Gagne Elements. Either or, but not both.  Following the prescribed Intel syllabus saves time and does not require so much agonizing over the arrangement and sequence of contents. It’s already basically done for you. Just follow the steps and design accordingly. So getting the above grid done took only a day or two. The good thing is, I could still stick with it.

    2.      Go for exploration

      However, I like the Gagne model very, very, very much!! This means, I am forced to reconcile both and see where the results lead me. This method is dangerous when you lack time.  Right now, time is not an option. Suddenly I find  am confronted  with a decision. I need to decide soon.  How do I do a mashup?

      What I learnt:

      After playing around with the two organization principles, I learnt that it is possible to combine more than one within a module.

      I can have both! I can integrate the basic syllabus of the Intel course with Gagne’s instructional events. Following this discovery, I have decided that I may need to just follow the adapted Intel sequence of activities but use some important principles suggested by the Gagne model, but not necessarily in the suggested sequence. I must make sure that these elements are present in each module. It took me an entire day to reach this insight.

      I also learnt that there are just no short cuts to thinking. There is a time and a season – and not one minute sooner. Sigh.

      So far how am I doing so far in tying together these two organization principles? Are Gagn’s instructional elements reflected in the activities and their sequence in the module yet? I will examine this:

      The column below shows how I checked my activities adapted from the Intel syllabus  against Gagne’s framework to ensure the soundness of the instructional principles.

      Column 1 From: Jeffery Goldman’s “Using Gagne’s 9 Events of Learning in e-Learning”

      Column 2 From: Linda Stolling’s “Robert Gagne’s Nine Learning Events: Instructional Design for Dummies”

      Column 3 My activities: How I applied the principles

      Gagne’s Principles of Instruction and Joy’s Activities/Decisions

      Principle and

      Application Suggestions

      (Jeffrey Goldman)

      Principles and

      Application Suggestions

      (Linda Stolling)

      Application of Principles in Module

      Joy Quah

      1. Gain attention

      This works great in e-learning. Use of animation, audio, graphics, etc. make this any easy task. The important thing is to tie it to the content and to “stimulate learning” of the subject at hand. Do not just get the learners’ attention, but get them curious and motivated to learn about the subject/skill your course addresses.

      Hey you!

      Present a problem or a new situation. Use an “interest device” that grabs the learner’s attention. This can be thought of as a “teaser” (the short segment shown in a TV show right before the opening credits that is designed to keep you watching and listening). The ideal is to grab the learners’ attention so that they will watch and listen, while you present the learning point. You can use such devices as:

      • Storytelling
      • Demonstrations
      • Presenting a problem to be solved
      • Doing something the wrong way (the instruction would then show how to do it the right way)
      • Why it is something important

      “Teaser” Activity

      Does this look exciting?

      Students look at projects done by students from the Oracle Competition Website


      A look at our students today

      (Motivate: Justify the need for students to develop skills, knowledge and attitudes)


      “Reading and “Writing” in the Digital age: Understanding The Need for Digital Literacies

      (Motivated to learn so that they can see the value of PBL)

      2. Inform learners of the objectives/direction –I always include objectives. Learners should, and want to, know what they are going to learn, but do not include objectives as written in your course design plan; they’re very dry and boring that way. State them as if you were face to face with the learners. If your course has characters, let them tell the learners what they will learn and what to expect.

      Joy’s note:

      Characters – great idea to add presence. But my technology does not support this. The Intel elements course uses characters.

      Is there some way I can work in this idea of characters?

      Ms Lee – cynic

      Mr Ron – optimist

      Ms Leela – cautious but willing

      Ms Nimmi – Innovator

      Today we are going to…

      Provide an overview of the module goals

      This allows the learner’s to organize their thoughts and around what they are about to see, hear, and/or do. There is a saying in the training filed to 1) tell them what you’re going to tell them, 2) tell them, and 3) tell them what you told them. This cues them and then provides a review which has proven to be effective. e.g. describe the goal of a lesson, state what the learners will be able to accomplish and how they will be able to use the knowledge.


      Module 1 Overview

      What will we learn in this module?

      Point to remember:

      “Do not include objectives as written in your course design plan; they’re very dry and boring that way. State them as if you were face to face with the learners.”

      (Remember to check)

      * “Reading” and “writing” in the Digital Age Forum

      * A Project-Based Approach to Learning

      * Considering the characteristics of the approach Resource

      * Benefits of Project-Based Learning

      * Developing skills, attitudes and knowledge Resource

      * Analyzing a project: What did the students learn? Resource

      * Sharing: What did the students learn by creating projects? Forum

      * Planning Ahead

      * Grouping Instructions and Brainstorming To

      3. Stimulate recall of prior learning –Have an exercise(s) that will assist learners associate the subject with concepts they are already familiar with or link the exercise to prior experience or knowledge. You need to really know your audience to pull this off, which requires a thorough needs assessment. In the classroom you can also use this event to measure your audience and tailor the training to them, if needed. In an asynchronous e-learning environment you will not be able to do this in a direct manner, but you can allow for self reflection and user control of the course. The user should be able to pick and choose the content they need. Even if you are making a very linear course, you should at least have a very accessible contents menu. Yesterday we learnt how to…

      # relate past module content to new material

      # provide module reviews

      # incorporate pre-tests

      This allows the learners to build on their previous knowledge or skills. Although we are capable of having our “creative” minutes, it is much easier to build on what we already know. e.g. remind the learners of prior knowledge relevant to the current lesson, provide the learners with a framework that helps learning and remembering.


      Perhaps yes and perhaps no to the activity below. I think the number of activities will overwhelm the students.


      Working backwards: Process analysis

      Questions to elicit target:

      • How did the teacher plan the process so that the students could come up with a project like that?
      • Can you recreate the steps?


      7 major processes

      • Try to recall the steps and important elements you must include in your everyday instructional planning.

      Elicit understanding that:

      • Project based learning isn’t so different from good instructional planning.
      • Project base leaning shares many, if not all of the characteristics of good instruction you have mentioned
      4. Present the content-This does not mean shifting into page turner mode. Keep it interactive. This can include using a character and story to deliver the content, breaking it up with questions and input from the learner, games, branching scenarios/sims, etc. I also like to use interactive Flash animation to put emphasis on the content and to allow practice and application of the new skill or knowledge. FYI: Typically the following feedback levels (5-7) will be incorporated into the “present the content” event. This is a demonstration of…

      • provide material that clear, up-to-date and accurate
      • provide paper based support material
      • provide current links to online resources (articles, videos, audio etc.)
      • leverage multiliteracies

      Chunk the information to avoid memory overload. Blend the information to aid in information recall. This is directly related to Skinner’s “sequenced learning events.” This allows learners to receive feedback on individualized tasks, thereby correcting isolated problems rather than having little idea of where the root of the learning challenge lies. Bloom’s Taxonomy and Learning Strategies can be used to help sequence the lesson by helping you chunk them into levels of difficulty.


      Setting Literacy Context for Project Based Learning

      • Video
      • 2 readings: Walsh and

      Benefits of Project-Based Learning

      3 frameworks:

      • 21st century skills
      • Costa and Kallick’s 16 habits of mind
      • Marzano’s dimensions of thinking

      Input: Process of Designing Instruction

      Use Intel materials?

      Use other websites?

      5. Provide learning guidance –This is an opportunity for the learner to apply the learned knowledge or skill, but with guidance. A good example is a simulation. Whether a software sim or a soft skill branching sim, it should have sound instruction/directions and feedback for incorrect choices or answers. Unlike classroom training you cannot directly gauge the challenges the learner is having and any feedback provided is pre-scripted. The only alternative is a way for the learner to post questions or need for clarification through the course, such as an e-mail function. This will still not provide immediate guidance, but is an alternative if the course’s feedback is not enough. Another reason that course evaluation and redesign is important. This is a guide for performing…

      • provide email contacts
      • set-up chat-rooms and threaded discussions
      • offer answers to FAQ
      • include links to supporting references/glossaries

      This is not the presentation of content, but are instructions on how to learn. This is normally simpler and easier than the subject matter or content. It uses a different channel or media to avoid mixing it with the subject matter. The rate of learning increases because learners are less likely to lose time or become frustrated by basing performance on incorrect facts or poorly understood concepts


      • Provide links to project-based learning sites to help learners do their blog on “What is Project Based learning”.
      • Provide scaffolding questions for blog assignment “What is project-based learning”
      • Provide stimulus questions to guide discussion on “reading” and “writing” in the digital age
      • Set up “Ask a question area”.
      • Provide rubrics to guide discussion
      • Provide scaffolding in generating topic ideas (setting up groups and system for collaborative brainstorming)
      6. Elicit performance –Allow the learners to practice the new skill. An interactive exercise or a simulation. Remember, this event does not require as much guidance as the prior event. They should be at the point where they can apply the skills and wish to practice those skills. For example, a software sim in a “try me” mode, but with little are no instruction. Feedback can be provided, but more likely at the end of the event. This is an opportunity for the learners to confirm their understanding of the content and a chance to practice and increase the likelihood of retaining information. Now you try it…

      • assign meaningful tasks and activities
      • give clear and concise instructions
      • incorporate group work
      • leverage social software
      • provides means for posting work
      • include aspects of individual responsibility

      Practice by letting the learner do something with the newly acquired behavior, skills, or knowledge



      Discussion based on readings and video.


      • To apply understanding of the extended interpretations of literacy in the 21st century
      • To elicit understanding of why we need to teach new forms of literacy through PBL


      Create a blog post to tell other teachers what Project-Based learning is.


      • To summarize PBL basics
      • Apply their knowledge about PBL characteristics and benefits


      Analyze this project by mapping against 3 frameworks


      • To apply understanding of how PBL develops skills, attitudes and knowledge through process of creating products
      7. Provide Feedback –For e-learning courses, feedback is folded into the 2 prior events/feedback levels. You  need to

      • include “You’ve now completed…” messages and encouragement
      • encourage instructor use of discussion threads
      • incorporate assignment drop-off box/feedback tools

      Show correctness of the learner’s response, analyze learner’s behavior. This can be a test, quiz, or verbal comments. The feedback needs to be specific, not, “you are doing a good job” Tell them “why” they are doing a good job or provide specific guidance.

      • Provide feedback during discussion
      • Leave comments/pointers in blog
      • Summative and formative grading every fortnight (in the gradebook).
      • Use Moodle messages to send feedback
      8. Assess performance –With very few exceptions, I include an assessment at the end of the course (switching events events 8 and 9). I will include feedback for both correct and incorrect answers. For correct answers I may provide some additional pertinent information, which may boost retention. And for incorrect answers I will provide feedback that provides information on why their answer is incorrect and, if appropriate, what the correct answer is and why. If the content involves software I may also include a screenshot if it helps. Although this is the eigth event I always make it the last event, after Enhance Retention and Transfer. My experience is that once the learner has completed the assessment and received their certificate and credit for the course, they most likely exit. So, I swap the ninth and eigth events. Now we will have a performance test…

      • incorporate ePortfoliosSee also
      • allow for monitoring and tracking of student participation

      Test to determine if the lesson has been learned. Can also give general progress information

      Assess student products in gradebook

      • Assess Blog (no rubrics yet for PBL research)
      • Discussion (rubrics prepared)
      • Products – Project analysis grid
      • Looking ahead: Project topic Brainstorm grid

      To consider:

      Can I do a quiz on PBL basics to check on understanding? Will think about it

      9. Enhance retention and transfer (closure)-Prior to the assessment I will provide a conclusion. I highlight and review important elements of the content and re-affirm if the course objectives were met. I will also discuss how this new knowledge or skill will be used in the workplace. This is also an opportunity to provide review questions prior to launching an assessment (event 8). We will now do it on the job..

      • provide further readings
      • provide real-world examples and optional tasks
      • make connections with other coursework/networks

      Inform the learner about similar problem situations, provide additional practice, put the learner in a transfer situation, review the lesson.

      Tricky one. I have not thought about this yet. How do i bring a module to a close?

      Make them look at the unit plan?

      This is toooooo much information. They will not be able to assimilate.

      I’ll keep thinking about this one.

      The above was a very, very useful exercise for me. Took a lot of time, but it was well worth the effort. I can be assured that I have sound justification for the design of the activities in the module. I will at all times be mindful that all the elements which appear in the module must have a good reason to be there.

      Some other decisions:

      Module Headings as Advanced Organizer

      (Since the time of writing, this plan to present this grid in the module overview been abandoned because it looks extremely unfriendly and clinical. This is an active decision I made in considering the factor of social presence. Note the clinical tone of the objectives! Nevertheless this helped me become more aware that there must be a match between objectives and activities. Sometimes I see modules with objectives for which they have no activity, and vice versa. This exercise below is to prevent that. It was a useful exercise, but I will refrain from presenting it like this! Below is the abandoned advanced organizer).


      From this, I have learnt that it is perfectly fine to change your mind, as long as you have solid justification. This was also a useful reminder abot the importance of accurately matching the number of objectives with activities. A designer needs to avoid creating an objective that has no activity, and an activity with no objective, as can sometimes happen through oversight. I have done this in the past, and therefore I am quite vigilant now. I am transferring my previous learning to this new situation! however, this will not save the above layout. It will be represented in a friendlier, less clinical way.

      Things that I find difficult:


      Multi-tasking  has been something very difficult to manage. When I am writing up discussions, I think about the blog that I am neglecting. When I am working on the blog, I think about the module, which has been left dangling. I cannot seem to do one task without worrying about the other. So I flit from one task to another, doing bits of everything but not feeling very satisfied with anything in particular. Today was designated “blog day”.  Blog days always tire me out. The last two blog  days required 12 hours’ work of writing for each blog, so naturally, I wasn’t too thrilled. I think I may need to scale down to free up some time to do more work on my modules. But as I was starting on my blog, I discovered that in order to have something worthwhile to say, I  needed to put in more work in structuring my module, in order to capture some of my decision-making processes more accurately.

      As a result, I switched, and did some work on the module instead, leaving the blog unfinished. As I was doing my module, I hit a few snags, so I spent way more time than I intended troubleshooting and restructuring. This took the entire morning and afternoon, leaving me exhausted.

      So this is the present state at which I am starting to write my blog. I gave myself an ultimatum to finish this today or else…

      But I did achieve my plan. It is now 1.09 am. A successful “blog day” comes to a close.

      And this is a record of some of the decision processes I have had to make in developing Module 1. There were so many other decisions, but I guess I will only report those which were significant, and which I can remember!


      Planning to Teach Online: Observations and Experience

      Bill Pelz wrote about teaching presence in his Sloan acceptance speech. So I read up more about it. I discovered that teaching presence is something that happens before you even meet any of the students! Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, and Archer (2007) define teaching presence as “the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes. Teaching presence begins before the course commences as the teacher, acting as instructional designer, plans and prepares the course of studies, and it continues during the course, as the instructor facilitates the discourse and provides direct instruction when required. Through adequate teaching presence, formal learning that facilitates personally relevant and educationally defined outcomes is achieved” (p.5).

      So this includes everything a teacher does prior during and even after the course! So establishing teaching presence is what all the designers, Alex, and even I, am doing when we make decisions about the content of the course, the types of activities we want to include, the tools we would like to use, how we want to assess, how we provide channels for providing and managing feedback, how we want to induct students into the course, how we want to wrap up the course….Basically – everything! From planning, to execution, to assessment, to revision. So this is why developing a course is an “iterative process”. And nothing happens by chance. Everything happens by deliberate design. And I am seeing how this is happening.

      Observations of My Own Learning

      As I completed these learning activities, here are some observations I made about myself.

      Technical Aspects

      I found the technical aspects of the course manageable at the moment. The Jing was a great help in setting up my course documents. I was surprised that I didn’t struggle because I had the impression that it was going to be the most difficult part.

      (OK, I take it back. At the time of writing, everything was fine. But at present, my Twitter widget is creating havoc with my newsflash page. I am waiting to be rescued. “If it breaks, don’t do it again?”)

      For teaching “how-to”, I will definitely use Jing. It was effective. That’s how I learnt to set up my course content page. I was always convinced that video tutorials work so much better than text tutorials. This was also how I learnt to change the appearance of my Moodle skin – through video tutorial. I am going to pursue the use of this powerful teaching tool in my module.

      Developing Critical Thinking through Discussions

      It turns out that the discussions are the most difficult thing for me. I love reading posts, but I find writing very difficult. I actually struggle.  I think I need to ask more questions and examine my responses more closely to see if they contain any elements of critical thinking.

      At the same time, I acknowledge that discussions are important. I will definitely use them in my course. Discussions are an effective strategy to engage students cognitively with the ideas, concepts and content of the course.  Social interaction during discussions is a strategy used to enable students to process and externalize what they know, think, learn and feel about the ideas, concepts, and content of the course. I believe that the discussions are meant to help us develop the intellectual discipline of critical thinking.  Michael Scriven & Richard Paul (1987) have defined critical thinking as “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.”

      Rubrics to Scaffold Critical Thinking

      In our own present course, I recognize that above traits and standards have been spelt out in the discussion and blog rubrics. Bill Pelz uses discussions for these purposes too in this class. Bill lays down ground-rules for discussions so that “students have to probe, ask for additional information, police their discussion threads, make sure they stay on topic, make sure that irrelevant comments are kept to a minimum, and …they substantiate arguments.” In the words of one of the designers said “Be explicit or you will not get the result that you want.” So in order to get the students to think critically, I must specify what behaviors are expected of them to demonstrate critical thinking abilities. I will do this using the rubrics.

      Assessing Discussions

      I will most certainly cognitively engage my students in discussions, but I will do a little experiment with how I assess them. I will evaluate the effects of the experiment in week 7. I will only enforce the “peer grading” requirement for the first 6 weeks. We will use that period to calibrate standards. At that point, when everybody becomes more capable of accurately judging the quality, I will drop the requirement. At the end of the course, I will ask students to select what they think are their 12 best posts. They will grade these posts, and I will also grade them.

      I will add a caveat. If the discussions slack by week 7, the peer-grading requirement will be reinstated immediately, since the students obviously cannot be trusted to rely on intrinsic motivation to participate in the discussions. We’ll see.

      One of the questions I would like to ask about the discussion is: Are grades the only thing that effectively motivates people to participate in discussions? Should we not emphasize the values and benefits associated with discussion so that what drives the discussion are the values associated with the activity and not the points? Just a thought.

      Developing Critical Thinking through the Use of Diigo

      Although Bill Pelz has included a fantastic resource page of links for psychology content, I also think it is useful for students to be able to contribute too. For this pupose,using Diigo is perfect. As in this present course, I will use Diigo to increase the students’ cognitive engagement. The use of Diigo, besides increasing the knowledge base of the community, also functions as a strategy to get students to think critically. Each bookmark is a reasoned selection. Using Diigo trains critical thinking through selection, recognizing of relevance, justification, analysis and evaluation. Incorporating the various resources through hyperlinking and bookmarking  is “incorporating a family of interwoven modes of thinking” (Scriven & Paul, 1987, p.1) into the writing and thinking process.

      Planning My Learning

      • Overview of Module

      I learnt that it is very, very important to get an overview of the module before doing each assignment. This time round, I tried to follow the instructions and directions more closely, unlike in the last module. I realized that I am calmer this time round in managing my learning. I realize it is important to stay calm, and survey all the requirements before systematically clearing each assignment. Now I see why all the designers like Bill Pelz and Steve Zucker (I think) include some kind of advance organizer to help their students quickly grasp the basic structure, content and requirements of the module.

      In my own module, I don’t think I will include an advance organizer. Instead, I will organize the material sequentially so that the relationship of the materials is clear from their placement in the module.

      • Developing Learning Strategies

      The new way of learning by listening to audio files caught me by surprise. When I started to listen to the breeze presentation and some of the audio files, it did not occur to me to take notes. I just went from one file to another. The next day, I realized I couldn’t recall anything I had heard the previous day. So I had to go back, listen again and start taking notes. I realized that this method of online instruction requires a new learning strategy, and I wasn’t learning strategically. So this taught me that next time, I will be armed with pen and paper when anything involves listening.

      What is Working for Me

      The thinking is working for me. I realize I have to adopt a mindful stance in developing my course, in the same way the instructional designers have done in their own courses. I have seen some of the strategic and reasoned choices they have made and I have also seen values translated into action in very concrete ways like this:

      People are important, so… (make decisions, plan activities, evaluate, discard, adapt, iterate, etc.)

      Thinking is important, so ….(make decisions, plan activities, evaluate, discard, adapt, iterate, etc.)

      Learning is important, so…..

      Content knowledge is important, so…

      Skills are important, so…

      The opportunity to watch the designers making decisions and justifying those decisions has been helpful. I saw the thoughtful attitudinal approach to designing, and I am very inspired by how concerned they are about structuring the learning for their students. This would be something good to emulate.

      Ice-Breaking/Orientation Session

      Another thing I would consider is have an ice-breaking/induction module prior to module one. Like Alex, all the designers mentioned that they “open” the class a earlier to allow the students to get to know each other, acclimatize to the environment of the class, and according to Bill Pelz, “acquire some of the skills necessary for survival and success.” Alex has stressed the importance of a comprehensive set of course documents. Alex allowed a month to get everything done, so I didn’t feel pressure to complete the prior preparations she required. She said to “think of this areas as the orientation and syllabus area” and to use it to help students “understand what the course is about, and what your expectations are. The other designers have also placed great emphasis on setting up this area well. So I have already adopted this strategy in my own course.

      Solving the Challenges of Unique Types of Content

      One of the most significant insights I gained from my experience of the course and also through my observations, is that the online medium poses some unique challenges for teaching different types of content. Each designer has to grapple with the problem and try to solve it.

      Steven Zucker had to think about how to show changing art styles of different periods. He solved it by using a pictorial timelime to show evolution of styles.  He also had a problem of how to get his students to “trust their own voice” when critiquing a piece of modern art. He solved it by putting an image with an accompanying sound file, and modeling an oral critique with the help of his colleague. Rob Piorkowski had to grapple with the challenge of getting students to interact synchronously in order to simulate authentic communication. The activity failed, and he didn’t say how he solved it, but he will have to do so at some point, since synchronous interaction is an integral part of learning a foreign language. My classmate  Mike struggled to find a server to host and stream his sound files which are vital to his course. He finally solved the problem when he found a host (I am not sure where). But he will still have to meet other challenges in teaching music online.

      My design challenge is how to get students to collaborate on a video using an online authoring platform. The first problem was solved by Alex who bookmarked One True Media, a free online video authoring platform. It works great. However, there will be another tricky problem to solve. One true Media does not have multi-tracking to record narration and audio together. This will involve using another software called Audacity to record the sound files first. I expect this to be confusing for students. In anticipation of the confusion, I have already worked out a strategy using an instructional storyboard which the students are required to work on before the do any recording. I had to think of the step by step method of guiding my students through the process.

      Like the other designers, I am sure I will encounter other challenges along the way. But from what I have observed, problem solving is one of the key challenges of teaching online. In fact, this is what makes the teaching fulfilling because it is so complex. It could actually be the fun part.

      From watching the breeze presentation, reading the articles and “observing” the designers plan, make decisions and iterate their course, I have a good overview of the process of designing an online course. I am really keen to begin planning and developing material for the orientation module. I look forward to pushing the boundaries of online learning. I want to see what is possible to make the students as “heutagogynous” as possible.



      Scriven, M. & Paul, R. (1987). Critical thinking as defined by the national council for excellence in critical thinking: A statement by at the 8th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform. Retrieved from on 16 June 2010.

      Establishing Social Presence in the Course – Theory into Practice

      What did I learn in this module that I did not know before? How will I apply what I have learned to my own course?

      One of the most significant things I learnt is that online instructional design has many important processes and components which MUST be addressed. One of the key components of the process is the management of the social dynamics of the online environment.

      In considering the management of social dynamics of an online classroom, I may have a clue why some online programs thrive and others fail. This has to do with how instructors manage (or mismanage) the domain of social presence in their online classrooms. After observing and experiencing what went right, I can understand better how things can go wrong in establishing social presence in the online environment. I will use the domain of social presence as a framework to discuss some of my observations and experiences on Module 2. Within this framework, I will also discuss some of the ways in which I will apply knowledge and insights I have gained.

      I have heard some anecdotal accounts that suggests that one of the factors is the sense of isolation students feel when they are in an online classroom. The online classroom is, in fact, empty. I hear strange reports like, “Even the lecturers do not log on even after they are paid to do it”. I have seen graphs reporting low hits, and almost no hits in online support systems in blended learning. And everybody is asking “What’s wrong? How come the students are not logging on and participating? Where are the lecturers?!”

      At this point in my learning, I am beginning to understand the situation a little bit better. I hypothesize that one of the reasons is because neither the lecturers not the students feel that the online classroom is a real classroom, with real instructors and real classmates. The environment has no evidence of human activity, and therefore no sense of community is present. It is missing one of three major elements which need to be present in an online learning environment: Social presence. Social presence in online learning has been defined as “the ability of learners to project themselves socially and emotionally, thereby being perceived as “real people” in mediated communication” (Gunawardena & Zittle, 1997;  Short, Williams &Christie, 1976, cited in Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007, p.159).

      In their seminal work,  Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000) suggested that  social presence is one of three interacting domains that constitute an online learning environment: cognitive presence, teaching presence and social presence. Of these three, I would like to examine the concept of social presence because this is a factor that seems to loom large in explaining the isolation students have reported feeling in online environments. Affective factors related to social presence need to be addressed because “given recent findings in brain science research, emotion is a central influence in learning processes and outcomes” (Campbell & Cleveland-Innes, 2005, p.1).

      Social Presence: Theory into Practice

      From my observations, social presence is manifested in very concrete ways in the design of the online courses I have had the privilege to “observe” in this module. In my experience so far, I also see the theoretical underpinnings of the Community of Inquiry instructional model being put into practice.

      Wording of Course Documents:

      From my observation of the comments made by each of the fiver designers, I might add that social presence not only also includes the perception of their classmates as “real people”, but also the instructor. Instructors must make their presence real to their students. In the course observations and also my own experience, instructors make great efforts to address this aspect through very concrete measures.

      In this course, we have, from the outset, been reminded to make our tone personal and approachable. For example, most of us have been asked to reword statements and instructions in the course documents in order to sound more personal and “people-friendly”. We were encouraged to use personal pronouns like “I” and “You”. For example, instead of saying “students will….” we were asked to rephrase it as “you will”. In order to come across as a real person, Alex has framed her expectations as “I expect you to…” instead of the more impersonal form “Students are expected to”.

      Tone of Written Communication Online

      Generally, it is imperative to be aware of the tone of all written communication so that they sound more conversational rather than overly academic. Some of my colleagues in my workplace, have commented that some of my modules sound distant because I tend to frame my objectives and instructions in a very academic sounding tone. This problem will be even worse online. As a person, I am a little bit introverted. But I believe that most, if not all behaviors can be learnt. The first step towards change is awareness. Now, with a greater awareness of the need to communicate in a more personal style when I am online, I will take concrete measures to improve my affective communication by considering the tone of my written communication. I have learnt from working on my course documents that will need to be more mindful of crafting my communication so that my social presence will be one which sets a more supportive and more “human” tone.

      Establishing Physical and Instructional Presence to Humanize the Online Environment

      • Use of Images

      One of the factors which make people feel isolated online is the absence of elements that distinguish the instructor and other students as human beings. This is why it is necessary to let students see what instructors look like and hear what they sound like in an online environment. Same goes for the students. The element of human presence has been consistently addressed by Alex in our learning environment. For example, she doesn’t just let us hear the 5 instructors speaking. She included their pictures and also asked the instructors to provide little writeup about themselves. The picture of Bill Pelz in his little sports car, with his dog, was a good move to counter the austere image of the cold, aloof professor. And Steven Zucker, with his backpack, out hiking somewhere, and Beth Harris, with her cool sunglasses, give a glimpse of real human being with interests outside of academia. This is why Alex also insisted that we upload our pictures online.

      • Use of Voice Through Audio tools

      I suspect that in courses that are not well designed, a deafening silence often greets students as they enter their online classroom. It feels cold, lonely, and even eerie. Adding audio to an online classroom is a powerful measure to counteract this effect. The use of the voice humanizes the environment of the online classroom and establishes social presence.

      The use of audio tools are obviously very effective because Rob Piorkowski reported that his inclusion of audio files of himself saying words worked so well and was warmly received by his students that he decided to include more. Beth Harris and Steven Zucker also reported very positive outcomes when they included soundfiles of the both of them discussing and critiquing paintings. The students loved the strategy and the both of them have since added more audio material. It is very evident that audio has a positive effect on student learning.

      In our course, this principle is put into practice through concrete measures like using audio tools that allow instructor and students to hear the instructor and sometimes, themselves. From the very first moment we entered the course, social presence was immediately perceptible through the use of Voicethreads. We heard the instructor welcoming us and telling us about the course. This effectively simulated the dynamics of a face-to-face environment. I enjoyed hearing my instructor and also my classmates.

      In my own course, Voicethreads will be used in my introduction section to help me establish warmth and cohesiveness in my online class. My students must feel my presence and that of other classmates.

      • Presenting Content in Audio (and Video) Formats

      The use of tools like Breeze presentations also allows an instructor to create social presence in a class. Instead of just having the students read the content, to hear an instructor adds an affective element to assimilating new information. Besides adding social presence, presenting information in audio format is also a way to cater to diverse learning styles. Some students actually learn better through auditory means, as compared to visual means. Therefore presenting material in both visual and auditory formats demonstrate ways in which the instructor attempts to reach out to students, taking into account their different preferred leaning styles. And of course, the element of a teachers’ voice adds social presence to the course, thereby humanizing the material to be learnt.

      Breeze is a marvelous idea in order to simulate a “mini-lecture” as in Beth Harris’ class. It is, of course, time consuming and tricky to prepare as the script needs to be written and recorded. But it is well worth the time investment, because once it’s done it can be put to good use in many other contexts. This is one of the technologies which I am excited about because of the potential for it to personalize my delivery of content in the class.

      For social presence, you can’t beat Jing. It was as good as having the teacher in the class. I actually managed to set up my course documents area thanks to the Jing files embedded by Alex. I know my students will be very surprised and pleased to learn this way, considering the way I learnt how to set up my course documents. Jing is something I will most definitely use in helping me to be present to my students.

      • Use of Newsflash and other Feedback Channels

      All the instructors interviewed have emphasized over and over how important it is to let students know they’re there. One effective way of doing that is through the use of the newsflash section. Steven Zucker makes sure that he updates his newsflash are every three to four days. He commented that  “If I don’t keep my newsflashes every three to four days, they feel I’m not there, even if I’m responding to (inaudible)..”. Alexandra added that “this is a social presence thing which is an immediate cue to the students that really allows them to see and feel your presence immediately when they log in to the front page of the course. This is a very good strategy”

      In a further effort to establish connection with the students, Dr Zucker added that “I will send them a little message to tell them about evaluation and also to give them feedback about how they’re doing. I try to do that within the first three weeks, otherwise they will feel out at sea.” Setting up a system to enable students to ask questions is also one way of “humanizing” the course. When Bill Pelz described his system, Alex commented that “it’s like “giving them the ability to raise their hand (in a f2f class)”.

      The use of Twitter in the newsflash area is an idea which is worth adopting because it also very effective in increasing social presence. According to Dunlap and Leowenthal (2009), the use of Twitter enabled students in their online class to feel the immediacy of feedback from instructors and colleagues. It also had the effect of enhancing the social dynamics of the class, which became a friendlier and warmer. This seems to have a similar effect in our class, although I noticed that not many people are using Twitter. I am not sure how to use the technology, although I know that I look forward to Alex’s tweets.

      I am considering using Twitter for my newsflash, but I will need to master the technology first. I am confused by the hashtags and their functions. But I will seriously consider using Twitter because it has a nice feel of immediacy and personalized contact..

      Providing Channels for Feedback

      Taking feedback seriously and also acting on feedback is one of the concrete manifestations of not only social presence but also teaching presence. In the course observations, it was evident that all the designers had established mechanisms for students to provide feedback on the course. Acting on student feedback can strengthen courses, as it did Rob Piorkowski’s. He had a mid-semester feedback session where he asked the students about what activities worked and which didn’t. Students reported that they enjoyed hearing the teacher’s voice in the activities. So he included more material in which he recorded his voice. Students reported that they didn’t like repetitive activities. He did not report how he acted on that feedback but we can assume that he would have taken note and revised activities which seemed repetitive.

      • Providing an “Ask a Question” Area

      Not having a good feedback system can be have a negative psychological effect on students, as Bill Pelz discovered at the early stages of implementing his online course. In the earlier years, students commented that they were having trouble getting to him “and they weren’t sure how they could get my attention easily during the course”. So he acted on the students’ feedback by developing a “Talk to the Professor” area. He acted on the feedback and now the students have an improved channel for themselves “to ask about the course or about relate materials or something they might have read or seen on television, and get the professor’s attention and discuss with the professor and other students in that section”. Social presences in terms of affective factors are addressed in this way. Students feel that their suggestions are valued and that someone is listening, taking them seriously and responding to their needs as learners.

      In the design of my own course, I will take into account the importance of establishing channels for student feedback by creating “Ask a question” links in perhaps every page of material. I also intend to, like Rob Piorkowski, Steven Zucker, and the rest of the designers, have a “howzit going” evaluation at the 3rd or 4th week of the course, just to “take the temperature” of the course. A suggestions page might also be a good idea because the end-user can sometimes have a better feel if something is working or isn’t.

      • Providing Audio/Video to Personalize Student Feedback

      Video feedback was a completely radical idea for me. I was completely taken aback by the video feedback Alex created about my blog and also my classmates’ blog. That, I think, is the ultimate in exploring social presence in an online environment. It was also the ultimate personal attention anyone can get from a teacher!! It was as good as, if not better than having a teacher sit beside you, doing one to one tutoring (no I am not trying to re-create my classroom, but I see how this tool can help me re-conceptualize it). And better still, was how I could hear and see the instructor’s comment to other students. This actually beats an f2f setting, where you can only get access to your own feedback.  This way, you learn from your peer’s mistakes (and strengths). So it there are 10 people in the class, you learn ten times as much from the feedback compared to what you would get f2f. And since the feedback is recorded, you can listen to it over and over to address each mistake.

      Video feedback is something I have never seen until now. I know its effect and power, and I will definitely be exploring that in the design of feedback mechanisms in my course in order to personalize instruction and create a greater sense of social presence.

      Affective Engagement

      Sometimes, I think students will be stressed out when the course gets too serious. One way to signal them to loosen up a little bit is by introducing lighthearted elements into the course, which is what Bill Pelz did. He imaginatively introduced the element of fun into his course through crossword puzzles psychology games, while getting his students to engage with content. This way, he accomplishes two functions – de-stressing and learning. Clever! Now how can I do the same?


      Finally, from my observations of the various design elements incorporated into this course, and from the sharing of the other instructional designers, I can surmize that affective, cognitive and pedagogical factors are equally important. Affective factors often take a back seat even in f2f environments because it is perceived as hierarchically inferior to cognition. However, this belief is detrimental because reports showing reasons for failure in online courses often cite feelings of isolation as one of the main contributing factors. Angelino, Williams and Natvig (2007) have mentioned that developing learning communities can help alleviate these feelings because “Distance learners have many challenges to overcome such as physical separation, feeling of isolation, lack of support, and feeling disconnected…” (p.7).

      In the design of my own course, I will be cognizant of the need to establish an online environment which takes into account affective factors of learning. I will consider how I use various tools and also pedagogical strategies to engage my students and make them feel a part of a community of inquiry made up of real human persons. Scoza (2005) said it beautifully, “I have a hunch that the ways in which students perceive the reality of their instructors is predicated upon how well they perceive their instructors perceiving them. In other words, if we can manage to show empathy, respect, compassion and consideration to our online students, not only through our course materials, course policies, and pedagogical methods, but also with respect to how we present ourselves, they will feel that they have taken a class taught by a real person and not an automaton, and consequently, the teaching and learning experience will be enhanced for everyone” (p.46).



      (I had a hard time adjusting the correct APA spacing for the references, sorry this is the best I can do!)

      Angelino, L. M., Keels Williams F. & Natvig, D. (2007). Strategies to engage online students and reduce attrition rates. The Journal of Educators Online, 4(2), 1-14. Retrieved from

      Campbell, P. & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Educational presence in the community of inquiry model: A students’ viewpoint.pp.1 – 5, 21st Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from

      Dunlap, J. C. & Lowenthal, P. R. (2009). Tweeting the night away: Using Twitter to enhance social
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