Finding the Sweet Spot

The smoke in So Cal has given me some time to think about last Friday’s workshops (it’s not like I’d go outside or anything!).

Jim‘s plan for the workshop went well, though we did have to remind people that their big goals should focus on pedagogy rather on content. As people talked about their needs, I created a list of issues and possible solutions. The list was organized as we went along, according to the categories I semi-remembered from the current e-learning research. Because each presenter had different strategies, a lot of possible solutions emerged.

At the Showcase which followed, I had expected instructors to show off their online classes, but since each only had 10 minutes, they each showed one special thing they’re doing. Historian Karl Golemo demonstrated not only his PowerPoint with Audio, but also talked about having students submit assignments as PDF files, then commenting in handwriting on his electronic Wacom Intuos Pad tablet using Bluebeam PDF Revu. (This approach, it turns out, is featured in recent research by Vicky Morgan and Cheri Toledo). Julie Harland demonstrated how she’s integrated Pearson’s Course Compass CMS into her classes. Louisa Moon showed us her illustrated lectures and how she runs discussion in Blackboard (she’s been my inspiration for years!). Karen Smith showed how she structures discussion for hospitality students (who often have English as a second language). Kit Hudnutt showed how she has used Articulate software to create interactive units inside the CMS for internship orientations.

What was really apparent in both workshops was that two key strategies for online instructors are:

  • find something you love doing in class, and try to replicate it online
  • find one thing you really want to do online, and become an expert at that, whether it’s an application or a technique

For example, one instructor wants to do foreign language conversation online, and becomes an expert at Skype and Elluminate to achieve that goal. Another wants to duplicate work in groups, and becomes expert at the Groups feature in the course management system. Another loves podcasting, and begins recording lectures and posting them with RSS syndication. They ask questions, they Google things, they play with applications. After the initial learning curve, creating materials or facilitating interaction takes very little time.

In other words, each of us has a “sweet spot”, something we care about or a technology we love to use. We get really good at it, and it provides the core of our online classes. This was enlightening to me — none of us are great at all of it, but our sweet spots keep our enthusiasm going and that communicates to students, even (or especially!) in an online environment.

3 comments to Finding the Sweet Spot

  • I love how you help teachers incorporate technology into their day. I think I have to try this at my next class. Ask the teachers to choose one thing they love to do and find a way to do it online. Love it!

  • It’s wonderful to hear that your instructors are taking the time to focus on their strengths rather than trying to do it all. I know from experience that the features in an LMS can be overwhelming.

    Have you set up a forum for these instructors so they can share their ideas and ask questions? It would be like extending the conference but on a more casual basis.

    Take care!

  • […] it may increase the comfort level in seminars. My colleague Jim Sullivan did this so effectively last fall, and it’s an approach we all need to take as we help faculty navigate the technology for what […]