Spring 2014 e-Newsletter

Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much. Quote by Helen Keller

This semester, our focus is on diversity and accessibility, as it is important to ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn. Unfortunately, there are many barriers to college, especially online learning, for many students, which can include limitations due to disabilities, but can also include limitations due to misunderstandings and a simple lack of engagement.

As faculty, it is important to periodically remind ourselves of who our students are, as well as what they need. Not all students respond to our teaching in the same way, but that does not mean that those who do not do well are “lost causes.” We know this, of course, but it is important to consider different approaches to teaching that may get through to those students who could use a little boost. This might include making learning materials available in an alternative format, providing transcriptions or captions for videos you use in your course, or possibly even modifying course assignments to allow students more choice in how they demonstrate that they understand what you’ve taught them.

Accessibility of your course materials is very important, and while it may sound like “extra work” to make learning materials more accessible to all students, it really is not that way at all. In fact, by making accessibility a normal part of your routine, you can help all students, even those without disabilities, achieve greatness. Review our Web Accessibility website for resources and more information about accessibility. And, please plan to join us on March 25 and 27 to learn more about BlackBoard Accessibility features and tips, and on April 15 and 16 to learn more about Captioning Videos for the Web. Register to attend here and reserve your seat!


Shows characteristics of observable versus internal student engagement“My students aren’t reading!”

It’s a common complaint from teachers and professors all over the world. Students don’t read, they don’t pay attention, they don’t engage in class, they aren’t doing well on the tests . . . the list goes on. Why?

Of course, there are many reasons why this happens, some very personal to individual students and situations. Luckily, there are some ways we can do something to improve student engagement, and these strategies come from research in pedagogy, online learning, and the Millennial generation. With so much technology available today, students have different workflows and different expectations about learning endeavors than they may have had in the past. While there is no “universal truth” that characterizes all students, many young people born after 1980 – “digital natives” according to Marc Prensky – tend to be very eager to achieve, and are very goal-oriented. They are also very social, and tend to use technology to communicate and collaborate very readily. They enjoy the chance to discuss, video or text chat, and instant message each other regularly. And, because of the many choices in technology, media, and other elements that they have always known throughout their lives, they appreciate variety, flexibility, and choice in their learning methods and the materials they use to study.

With these characteristics in mind, below are some tips and resources that you can use to help find greater engagement within your own courses.

  • Include variety: vary your course activities and assessments, and give students a choice when you can. For example, instead of a test, perhaps students could opt to create a portfolio of what they have learned at the end of the semester. In this way, those students who may not have “tested well” may be able to demonstrate just as much knowledge of the topic through preparing a collection of papers, visuals, and presentations instead.
  • Be very clear about your expectations: Millennial students have grown up in a very rules-based society. Everywhere we look today, there are new “do’s and don’t’s” to be aware of, and school is no different. So, students need details, and they need to know exactly what is expected of them in order for them to succeed. Be clear, be organized, and provide feedback promptly so that students know where they stand at all times.
  • Allow students to work together: This does not necessarily mean group projects, but discussions, peer review, and other collaborative ventures are good ways to get students to engage and “feed” their need for social interaction. You can start to build community amongst members of the class this way, and especially in online classes, it helps students to not feel like they are “on their own.” Many students of the Millennial generation enjoy validation and the chance to get feedback from their peers as well as from instructors.

Looking for more advice or lesson ideas? Consult the following for more details, information, and tips!

Also, this month, check out our workshops on diversity and accessibility, including a presentation just on working with the Millennial Generation on February 18 and 20. Register to attend any of our workshops soon!


Mentoring fosters relationships and helps improve collaboration in an organizationDistance Learning Mentorship Program will Begin Fall 2014

A new program for professional development will begin in Fall of 2014, known as the Distance Learning Mentorship Program. Of course, even if you are not teaching online, you are still welcome to participate to learn more about using available technology tools to enhance your face-to-face or hybrid courses.

How does it work?

This program is based on the Quality Matters evaluation system, a research-based rubric and assessment process adopted by many schools nationwide. The intention is to help faculty not only learn how to use the tools available to them to create high-quality online learning experiences, but also to provide them with guidance on course design and pedagogy in the online classroom. For added value, this program also connects faculty with others, creating meaningful partnerships and professional learning communities to provide all faculty with greater levels of support, both within their departments and beyond them.

Like the previous DOC Grant program, faculty participants are guided through the process of designing and delivering new online courses. However, in addition, faculty mentors, or Guides, working with each participant support their protégés through this process, and evaluate their online courses both before they have been delivered, and after they have been taught one time.

The program spans the entire academic year. In the first semester, Guides and faculty Course Developers attend roundtable luncheons and training sessions periodically while also working together to help the Course Developer create a new course or enhance an old one. This course can be online, hybrid, flipped, or even just traditionally face-to-face with technology enhancements. The only limitation is your imagination! Guides and Course Developers will receive training both on technical competencies as well as pedagogical competencies necessary for online teaching and learning success. The course that Course Developers create or enhance in the first semester is to be taught in the following semester, and mentors will informally review the course before the end of the first semester to ensure that it is complete and of quality before it is delivered.

During the second semester, Guides will meet regularly with Course Developers to find out how the course is going as it is being taught. Together, they will work through questions or problems that may develop during the semester, along with support from the Office of Learning Technology.

Near the end of the second semester, the mentors will get together to review all courses as a group, using the full Quality Matters rubric, to determine whether courses developed by Course Developers officially “pass,” or whether additional work is warranted in order to ensure that the course has met a high standard of quality. The Director of Learning Technology will guide this process, and all feedback will be thoughtfully collected and provided individually to each Course Developer.

Who can join?

Any faculty member who has previously completed the DOC Grant or Online Academy for Effective Instruction can serve as a Guide, and a number of faculty have already been invited to consider participating. The program can support up to 6 mentors each academic year. Guides receive $500 per semester ($1000 total) as a grant for their service in this program.

Any faculty member, full-time or part-time, may work with Guides each academic year as a Course Developer. Once a Course Developer has developed a “passing” course and has gone through the entire program, he or she is eligible to become a Guide the following academic year, if approved by his or her department chair.

What are the benefits?

Both Guides and Course Developers will learn a great deal about good teaching and learning, as well as the use of technology to enhance instruction. Course Developers will get access to a personal, one-on-one help and a “go-to” expert to help them through the course delivery and teaching journey, as well as explicit feedback in all areas of course design and delivery that will help them continually improve. Guides will also learn quite a bit along the way, and will get the added benefit of getting to know a new colleague that much better. It’s a “win” for all sides!

How do I sign up?

Guides for 2014-2015 will be selected at the end of the Spring 2014 semester, and they, as well as Department Chairs, will be approaching faculty directly to find interested Course Developers. Be on the lookout, and be sure to email pncolt@pnc.edu if you want a potential Guide to contact you!


Blocks portraying the word QualityUpcoming for Fall: Focus on Quality

For the fall semester 2014, we will be focusing on teaching and learning quality. What does that mean, exactly? In short, it means  developing a framework for understanding what “good instruction” looks like, both in the classroom and online. We will discuss what it means to be effective, efficient, and engaging in the learning materials, activities, and assessments we provide to students, as well as learn about tools and strategies that can serve to enhance teaching quality. Topics for the fall semester’s workshops and webcasts will include:

  • Developing Course Objectives and Activities: examines strategies for developing engaging activities that are clear and understandable to students
  • Combating Cheating and Plagiarism: a close examination of the many strategies that you can use to minimize and prevent academic dishonesty in your courses – online or otherwise
  • Gauging Your Own Course Quality: a look at a comprehensive rubric designed to help you identify strengths and address weaknesses in your online or hybrid courses

We hope to see you at some of these upcoming webcasts and workshops, and look forward to sharing some ideas about how to work together to help all students succeed.