10+ Best Practices for Teaching Online!

Recently, I presented a webinar called “Best Pactices for Teaching Online”. I wanted to cover all my bases so I sifted through many of the “Best Practices” that are on the web. I ended up compiling this list into 10. I put 10+ because really there are actually tips inside of the 10 too. 😉 At the bottom are a few great resources that helped form this list.


1. Learn Basic Technology Skills

  • Know who can help you and your students and convey that information so everyone knows who to go to for help. Who do you call when you have technical issues, problems with the learning management system, or design issues? Know who is available at your institution to assist you and be sure and let students know who they can contact for help as well.
  • Can you..?
    • Use Word, Excel, and PowerPoint? or want to go beyond Powerpoint?
    • Use internet browsers and email?
    • Upload content to the LMS (Learning Management System)?
    • Show or hide assignments & assessments or discussion boards
    • Add web links
    • Use discussion boards and chat or whiteboard tools
    • Edit and revise assignment descriptions & instructions?
    • Navigate and use the grade book?
  • Without being comfortable with the basic tools available to you in your LMS, it’s very difficult to help students feel at ease and confident as they use the LMS for course work.

2. Before Class Starts, Design, Develop, and Set Up the Course

  • Many of us have have had to fly the plane while it is being built (see video) in the past but this is not good idea with online courses. It’s best to develop your course well in advance ensuring that the course is set up and complete before class starts. There are also best practices for the development of online courses and I’ve listed just a few below.
    • Syllabus
    • Welcome message from instructor
    • Module learning guides (lists objectives, and guides the students through the module, letting them know what they need to read, view, do, etc along with learning activities, discussions, etc). Think of it like a roadmap for students.
    • Appropriate and appealing course banner.
    • Consistent look and feel of course content
    • Use web-friendly formats (not large files, consider .pdf and .html rather than .ppt and .doc if possible)
    • Instructor to student and student to student communication strategies
    • Measurable learning objectives, rubrics
    • Include any support resources your institution has available
    • Comply with institution, state, and federal regulations (copyright, FERPA, 508, ADA)
  • Other Considerations:
    • When using technologies, provide content in multiple formats (ex: video with a script)
    • Consider download time for files (video and audio sizes, etc)
    • Consider different modes of learning for multiple ways for students to practice until material and skills are mastered
    • Use a variety of large group, small group, and individual work experiences
    • Use problem based learning activities applied to course concepts and provide adequate structure for group work.
    • Provide structure but allow for flexibility
    • If possible work with an Instructional Designer or use course rubrics for quality such as Quality Matters rubric, Blackboard Exemplary course rubric, or iNACOL standards for quality online courses.
  • Set up your course PRIOR to class starting:
    • Update the syllabus
    • Check due dates on assignments, assessments, and discussions
    • Hide modules or content you want hidden and show what you want shown.
    • Create a welcome announcement and introduction video to the course. Send a welcome email.
    • Double check links, videos, etc to ensure course content is available and relevant. Update if needed.
    • Prepare a weekly calendar to help you make the best use of your time online (virtual office hours, grading, discussions, feedback, and responses, etc)

3. Communicate Expectations

  • Your syllabus should include the following expectations:
    • Concepts taught, objectives, and learning outcomes in a clearly written format
    • Define the norms for class interaction for both instructor and students
    • Define grading criteria
    • Establish appropriate behavior and explain course organization
    • Include student and instructor response time expectations
    • Communicate high expectations. Remember, you are excited to teach online! Your LMS is great! 😉 This is going to be amazing for your students!  Be excited about teaching online and communicate that enthusiasm to your students.
    • As mentioned earlier, notify students whose available to help them (instructor, aids, tech support, libraries, academic services, etc)
    • Discourage lateness and encourage promptness
    • Provide students with a rubric of what good course participation looks like
    • Use the due date features in the grade book of the LMS
  • Develop an interaction plan for unsuccessful learners. What will you do to assist those who struggle?

4. Build Your Online Presence

  • Especially during the first week, log on every day. This is the period of time when students are most likely to experience problems, and you want to solve them right away. Tell them to who to call for help. Note: The level of student online activity is strongly predictive of eventual course grade and the probability of dropping the course. Instructors are key!
  • During the first two weeks of class:
    • check overall student activity – run tracking reports if available
    • contact low-participating students, noting your concern and offer assistance
    • Remind them of additional tutoring, academic services if applicable.
  • Establish a routine. Carry out actions most days of the week – at least 4. Students pay attention to your online presence or absence.
  • Build a relationship of trust and reliable expectations
  • Be present in the course – a liberal use of the tools: announcements, discussion board postings, feedback on assignments, etc communicate to students that their instructor cares about who they are, their questions, and concerns and is “present” to mentor and assist when needed. Note: Have a student & instructor introduction discussion post to help break the ice and begin developing a sense of community.
  • Be prepared for questions students would know had they read the syllabus. 😉 Post an announcement answering commonly asked questions, etc.

5. Encourage Interaction, Participation, and Collaboration

  • Tips for discussions
    • Discussions should occur during a specified time (two weeks, etc) so all posts and replies are somewhat during the same time.
    • Enforce guidelines for respect and responsibility in discussion boards, blogs, or chat rooms.
    • Require participation – state minimum number of postings per student, per discussion
    • Clearly state the purpose of the discussion – how will it help them achieve the course learning objectives? What benefit is there to a discussion?
    • Provide examples of good vs poor discussion messages
    • Post rules and hints regarding writing style for discussion boards
    • Clarify misunderstandings and bring the discussions back to key topics if they go way off topic.
  • In addition to discussions and blogs, consider using survey tools like polldaddy, suveymonkey, etc to increase the relevance of course concepts to students. Learn more about using surveys in your courses.

6. Have a Variety of Learning Activities in the Course

  • Design activities that encourage “active learning” in which students are expected to participate and be active.
  • Recognize that students have different learning styles.
  • Increase interaction in your courses – previous post.
  • Have a variety of types of learning activities:
    • Discussions, blogs, journals, projects, presentations, assignments, assessments, web quests, etc
  • Always provide feedback, what was good, what needs improvement
  • be prepared for students to request extensions of the deadlines (have a clearly stated policy)
  • Use auto-grade self-assessments where students can be given immediate results as they practice.
  • Use grading forms and rubrics to make the job of grading easier and ensuring students know how they will be evaluated.
  • Complete grading within your promised timeline.
  • Integrate mobile devices! Here is a prevous post on 8 Ways to Integrate Mobile Learning in Your Online or Blended Courses.

7. Provide Regular & Timely Feedback

  • Online students can feel isolated and distant. One of the most important things an instructor can do is provide regular and timely feedback. Provide feedback in a 24 hour response time, as often as possible.
  • Announcements:
    • Post announcements often (make them popup or send as email too if possible)
    • Include “teasers” for upcoming class sessions
    • Include time-dependent information like “Exam 3 grades have been posted”.
    • Include personal touches like holiday greetings, comments about class sections, occasional praise, relevant jokes, etc
    • Provide a summary and conclusion when a discussion is closed.
  • Develop FAQ to respond to recurring questions
  • Follow up with students who are not actively participating via email reminders
  • Email, text, or call students
  • Search the grade book for low grades and contact low scorers or those with dramatic changes in scores.
  • Be human: Incorporate warmth in your writing, occasional personal details, gentle jokes, etc.
  • Offer virtual office hours (ex: night before an exam, etc).
  • Always respond to questions within 24 hours

8. Modeling Ethics & Good Online Behavior

  • Include a statement on academic dishonesty in your syllabus and course
  • Identify risks of academic dishonesty for students
  • Use course content that complies with intellectual property rights and fair use standards
  • Create an environment online that promotes legal, ethical, safe, and healthy behavior online

9. Understand the Online Student Perspective

  • Just like on campus students, online students are extremely diverse. They are often trying to balance their course work with family, work, clubs, sports, and other outside activities. Demonstrating empathy for students goes a long way.
  • Understand their perspective through responsiveness and a supportive attitude.
  • Try and anticipate challenges and problems in the online classroom that may happen. Then proactively come up with alternatives for support.
  • Recognize that student success (grade, level of participation, mastery of content, completion percentage) is an important measure of course success
  • Remember that the online student appreciates clarity, flexibility, and response
  • Take an online course! Being a student in an online environment can really make a huge difference and help you as you teach because you will understand their perspective even better.

10. Share Ideas and Collaborate

  • Meet with your Online Ed team at your institution to learn more about how they can assist you with teaching online.
  • Discuss challenges with fellow faculty and other online instructors to get key insights
  • Read blogs and online articles about teaching online. No need to reinvent the wheel! 😉
  • Join a social networking site such as Twitter and search for like-minded colleagues around the world to share ideas. I’m a huge fan of twitter. Here is a previous post on why every educator should be on twitter. I’m on Twitter @Kodystimpson and @HigheredOnlineL

What other suggestions do you have? Please leave additional best practices in the comments area.

Here are a few resources referred to when compiling this list:


3 Ways to Go Beyond PowerPoint in Online Courses!

It’s not surprising that “New to Online” faculty sometimes defer to presentation tools like PowerPoint when developing online course materials. Since it’s a commonly used tool in teaching face to face, logically it is often used to create lessons for online courses. However, just like teaching face to face is much more than just looking at slides of content, online teaching can be more effective when lesson content is presented in interactive ways that go beyond merely having the students click through slides.

Going Way Beyond PowerPoint
Engaging Alternatives to Presentation Slides for Online Learning Content

 Here are 3 ways you can get out of the habit of merely uploading powerpoint slides and dramatically increase the look, feel, engagement, and most important effectiveness of your online or blended courses.

1) Alternative Tools For Enhancing Your Course:

HTML ToolsSoftchalk and Dreamweaver are web development tools which allow you to create visually appealing & webfriendly pages that can look much better than options available with just basic LMS tools. The pages may contain videos, audio clips, documents, and text all nicely designed with a chosen look and feel. Here are just a few tips for basic web design.

Surveys – Tools like Polldaddy.com or surveymonkey.com allow instructors to create basic surveys and embed them in WebCampus. You can ask students particular poll questions related to the content in an effort to increase the relevance of what you are teaching.

Educational Apps – Mobile devices afford many new options for learning content. Educational apps can be an exciting way for students to learn by leveraging features that may only be available on mobile devices. For more information on Mobile Learning, check out my previous post called 8 Ways to Jumpstart Mobile Learning in Your Online or Blended Courses.

Podcasts – Content for the lesson should be accessible in a variety of formats: readable written text, audio podcast, and a video vodcast of the lesson.  One statistical analysis reported that students believed podcasts to be more effective than their own notes to help them learn. I use Audacity for most of my recordings. Its free and fairly simple to use.

Avatars – Graphic automated avatars can be used to present concepts and information in an engaging way. Voki.com allows instructors to create an avatar that represents the instructor and short videos can be made and posted using the announcement tool or as an introduction to a particular module. Xtranormal.com allows you to develop whole cartoon videos that also can be quite engaging.

Videos & Learning Object Repositories – There are a variety of video options for increasing the quality of programs in a course. Of course there is youtube but check with your institution to see if there are any site licenses with access to videos such as FilmsOnDemand, Learn360, DiscoveryStreaming. Large repositories of learning videos can be an exciting way to add visual appeal. Also check out learning object repositories to see if there might be a learning object you can use.

2) Make the content interactive! Here is how:

 Increasing the amount of interactivity wth the content in your courses can significantly enhance students learning. Here is a previous post on 6 Ways interactivity can increase learning. You can also learn more about the following types of interactions by checking out my post on Maximizing Learning With Interactivity in Courses.

  •  Presentation Interactions – Student interact with the content of the lesson, not just read 
  • Video Interactions – Instead of just watching a video, questions or surveys popup to allow students to interact and respond as they watch. This allows the instructor to emphasize key points of interest throughout the video. 
  • Practice interactions – Autograded self practices allow students to attempt and learn from their mistakes in ways that can build encouragement and self confidence.  
  • Misc interactions – There are interactive charts, diagrams, flash cards, etc which may be used to make the module more engaging.

3) If you must use PowerPoint, Consider Converting them to .PDF
or Better Yet Use Articulate!

Even with the variety of options and tools available for online content, there may be times when you need to have PowerPoint presentations in your course. If so you may want to save a .PDF version (instead of the .ppt or .pptx version) of the presentation. This can make the file much smaller for downloading andalso makes it so students don’t need Powerpoint in order to view the file. Often browsers allow .PDF files to open within the LMS browser window. If you do convert your Powerpoint to .PDF any animations or embedded video/audio clips will NOT be accessible in the .pdf format but URLs and links to websites should work just fine.

An even better option, which can quickly help you to throw your PowerPoint slides into the 21st Century is to use Articulate Presenter, Quizzmaker, or Engage.  These tools can be used in conjunction with PowerPoint and can make the course significantly more interactive and engaging.

There are many more ways to go beyond just uploading powerpoint slides. What other tools or strategies have you found successsful? Please leave your comments below.

Purposeful, Engaging, and Effective Collaboration

Sometimes a well meaning instructor can unintentionally frustrate students with a collaborative online activity. A poorly written discussion prompt, an unorganized group project, a misguided wiki assignment are just a few common projects of frustration. However, when done effectively, students can enjoy the online collaborative activity while building connections and community as they learn.

Below are several tools you can use along with tips for promoting successful student collaboration.

1.     Effective Discussions

  • Establish and communicate discussion board ground rules – What are the expectations for writing styles? Are there rules of netiquette that need to be adhered to.
  • Determine and communicate how you will evaluate students’ participation – Do students need to post once and never return? Do they need to reply to other students posts? What criteria must be included for a good post and for a good reply?
  • Engage your students by asking good questions to get discussions going. Use open ended questions. – Poorly written discussion prompts are often the main reason why students don’t like them. Consider making the prompts relative to your students and their opinions, views, or thoughts for a given topic. The worst discussion prompts are ones that ask students to answer a question which has a defined answer and consequently each response is restating the answer again and again. 😉
  • Create an introductory discussion board where students can introduce themselves, what interests them in the course topic, and an interesting thing about themselves. This is a great way to immediately start building community in the course.

Adapted from: Using Online Discussion Boards to Enhance Learning in Your Class – University of Washington


2.    Purposeful Blogs

  • Reflections – Students can use blogs to share reflections on readings or the topic learned. They post their thoughts and read other students’ posts to gain additional insight.
  • Online Portfolio – As students proceed through a course, they can post their reflections or project creations to a blog so they will have a full online portfolio when they complete the course or program. This makes a great end of course project because it encourages them to do well on all projects leading up to it. They can easily share this with other students, their friends and also future employers.
  • Many blog tools also work well with mobile devices. This is a huge advantage. Using tools such as Posterous.com, students can upload images and post from anywhere using their mobile devices. For more on using mobile devices for learning, check out this previous post on Jumpstarting Mobile Learning in Your Online or Blended Courses.

Adapted from: Tips for Using Blogs in the Classroom – Onlinedegrees.org


3.     Clearly Organized Group Projects

  • Use a wiki to encourage groups of students to collaborate and complete a project. Remember if you choose to do any type of group projects online, that you clearly identify to students how to get ahold of other group members, the timeline for completion, all requirements, the tools they may use for completing the project, as well as what to do if a group member fails to participate. Be clear with the guidelines. Group projects can be frustrating to students if all of these details are not clearly stated prior to beginning the project.
  • Use web tools that are available to have students develop presentations and work with one or more other students to create the presentation. Again clear guidelines must be set at the beginning. One suggestion you may consider is to encourage students to divide up the workload so that much of the work can be done individually if that is possible. Also have one or more people go through the final product and streamline it to make sure that it sounds and looks good and appears as one cohesive project.


4.      Guided WebConferencing Group Presentations

  •  Giving the option for students to present their projects to the class using a webconference tool may sound appealing, but be sure and take the time to demonstrate to students how to use the tool and provide guidelines for their presentation.
  •  Archive Presentations – Since many students sign up for online courses due to scheduling issues, archive the presentations so that those who can’t attend live will still benefit from viewing the presentation.
  •  Encourage viewers to fill out a survey or provide feedback of some sort for the presentations. This keeps all participants engaged and participating.
  • What is the student benefit? – One question you might ask yourself is what benefit is achieved when holding synchronous (same time) online presentations/webinars compared to just having students watch an asyncronous video or archive at their own time. If participants are not expected to ask questions or interact with the presenter than it may be better to just send an archive out to students to watch when convenient for them.
  • More Webinar tips – For additional tips on making webinars more interactive, check out this on designing interactive webinars or read my previous post on 8 Vital Tips for Webinars.

Is it possible to have too much interaction? Yes, here is a post that clarifies that it is possible to have too much interaction. You don’t wan’t extra fluff, busywork, or interactions just to have interaction. But you do want opportunites for building community and learning through effective collaboration.

The key is to encourage MEANINGFUL and PURPOSEFUL interaction among students that PROMOTES LEARNING along with CLEAR DIRECTION for the collaborative learning activity.

Hopefully some of these tips can help ensure that the interaction we have in our online courses is purposeful, engaging, and effective. Do you have any tips? What have you found effective? Please post your suggestions in the comments area.

8 Vital Tips for Teaching Faculty Using Webinars!

There are many articles on webconferencing and a lot of schools & institutions of Higher Ed have already jumped in and started using webinars to provide training to faculty. If you haven’t yet made the jump here are a few considerations that may encourage you.



8 Vital Tips for Teaching Faculty Using Webinars:
A Strategy for Professional Development Sucess!

1. The Strategic Advantage of Webinars. Webinars can build relationships with faculty/customers/clients, increase your name recognition, establish your expertise, communicate important changes, and can attract (or keep) your customers (in this case faculty and students).

2. Consider the Costs. A few cost considerations include staff time, presentation development time, marketing time and presentation materials as well as the cost for the webconferencing tool if applicable.

3. Choose a Tool. There are a variety of tools. Be sure and choose a tool that will serve your purposes and work well for your situation. If you have an LMS, I’d suggest using a tool that easily works within it. We use Blackboard Collaborate. However, there are also a variety of free options. Here is a list of 10 Free Webconferencing tools.

4. What to Present. This is one of the most important keys to consider. You have to put yourself in the shoes of your audience. Why would they want to spend an hour of their time (yes it should only be an hour) sitting at their computer watching your webinar? I would make a list (and ask those around you to help) that includes a variety of different topic options. Then most importantly, send a survey out to your faculty and ask them what topics THEY feel are needed.

Also consider checking out what other similar institutions are doing for their webinar series. This information is often on their website. This will help you to get some ideas of what types of topics you should present. Make a good list of webinar topics.

Here are just a few topic examples: What’s New in Blackboard 9.1?, How to Use the Gradebook Tool, How to Present Engaging Webinars, Innovative Topics with Faculty, Mobile Learning, Best practice for Teaching Online, Best Practice for Developing Online Courses, Webtools, etc. The key is to make the topics relevant to what your faculty need or want to learn. Remember your trying to convince them that they shoudl give up their hour for your webinar. Make it worth their while!

5. Survey Your Faculty.  Before you put in stone what you will present, create a simple survey using a tool like SurveyMonkey. List all of the webinar options you and your team have brainstormed and be sure to have an “other” category so faculty can type in their suggestions as well. This will help ensure that webinars presented are in step with faculty needs.

4. When to Present. Consider the semester timeframe. One of the great advantages of webinars is that you can present them at key points when faculty need them with just-in-time training. At the begining of the semester, faculty may benefit from a refresher on best practices for teaching or a review on how to use the grade book. At the end of the semester, a good review on how to develop study guides for students or final exam procedures may be helpful. Consider holidays, busy times, etc when planning your calendar. You will want a calendar on your website complete with all the webinars clearly marked and a simple registration system (or email if you have no other option) so that you have an idea of which and how many faculty plan to attend.

5. The Process. After you know what and when you will present there are three steps to the basic process a) Invitations – client list, prospect list, newsletter link, link on your website, etc b) Deliver the content – Webinar on relevant topic w/ knowledgeable speakers c) Follow up with a survey and a link to the archive or handouts (whitepapers, docs, etc).

6. Creating an Audience. Email is a great tool to contact your participants. Create a marketing email promoting your webinar and send it to existing or potential clients/faculty. Encourage invitees to forward the invitation onto other colleagues. Place a link on your website and put it in your newsletter along with links to the registration page, previously archived (recorded) webinars, and to the master webinar calendar. If you have a marketing team, leverage other marketing options that you have available. Remember, if faculty don’t know about your webinar they will not attend. 😉

7. Best Practice for Presenting a Webinar. Always be sure and practice a run through of your presentation prior to going live. Make it engaging and interactive (not just a one way presentation). Have participants ask questions and encourage interaction through the use of poll questions, annotative tools, etc. Its also good to have one person be a moderator who welcomes the participants, checks their audio, answers questions, and introduces the speaker. Here is a link to some tips and best practices for presenting in a webinar.

8. Don’t Forget to Archive! Whenever you do a presentation, be sure and save an archive of the presentation. Its likely that some of the registered participants will be unable to attend and its nice to forward them a message containing a link to the archive after the webinar.  This also begins to establish a library of presentations that your faculty can refer to in the future (if you place a link to them on your site). Archiving is also good because as a presenter you can watch yourself and think about what went well and what didn’t for future improvement.


What other tips do you have for using webconferencing to teach faculty? Do you use a web conferencing tool for professional development at your institution? What have you found to be most effective?

Why Gamification? Quests & Badges to Engage Students

“Badges, I don’t Need No Stinkin Badges”

Actually Yes I Do and Students Do Too!

If the caption above confuses you, this youtube video is where it came from. You can rest assured the video has nothing to do with online learning. 😉 But badges on the other hand, yes, they certainly do!

When I was in Boy Scouts years ago, they had a merit badge system. Complete the projects and learn what you needed to learn (competency based) and then you would earn a badge to show everyone that you accomplished something. This article talks more about badges for competency.

Now consider video games. One of the motivating components of a video game is the fact that you can earn points, acrue tokens, weapons, or other advancements as you proceed through the game.

Both of these concepts can be applied to online learning. There are a variety of articles on gamification in learning. Boise State University developed a 3D Gamelab Professional Development course, which I took last summer. It was a learning management system developed to implement gaming principles. There were options and rewards with a totally different setup compared to what you often see in traditional learning management systems.

So I’m left to wonder, If I’m using Blackboard, what principles of gaming could I still do? Here are a couple ideas but I’m hoping those of you reading this will provide some additional insight in the comments area below.

1)  Develop Modules So They Are Quests With Options. Give students the choice of selecting a number of the options (or quests as 3DGamelab calls them) to complete. You can even make the diffrent quests worth different point values (which is similar to how the 3DGamelab works).

Imagine you have 10 quests (modules/topics). Students are asked to choose however many topics they like, but they have to earn 100 points by the time they complete the course. Some modules may be worth 10 points, others 20 points or more, but this gives students a choice as to what they want to learn (which quest to complete). It also makes it clear of what is needed in order to “win the A” (earn 100 points). Finally students are free to choose what they like while still learning the key concepts the instructor wants them to learn).

2) Implement Badges as Proof of Concepts Mastered. Imagine being able to have simple proof that you’ve mastered something. Yes, a degree is that in a sense, but how much learning goes on that isn’t attached do a degree? How much learning is going on inside just one class or maybe even inside one unit? You still learned a skill. Why not have a badge that you can show for it?

There are several articles that talk about the use of badges in learning. What I take away from it is that students want to be able to say “Look, I learned this”. If a course is vague or not relevant to students, its less likely they will be able to finish the course and say to themselves (or better yet a future employer) “I have learned this skill, and this skill, and I know how to do this….,etc”. 

Badges are a great way to movitate students and let them know just how much they have learned. I think the motivation is similar to that of being “certified” in something. I’d sure like to add an “Social Networking” or “Adobe Photoshop” badge to my digital portfolio that shows mastery of these concepts. When relevance is often forgotten or overlooked in courses, these badges can really make a lasting impression on students.

3) Even better, do both! One of the cool things about the 3D Gamelab was that it had the best of both of these. It had quests (topics) open so I could pick topics that most interested me as I earned the points.  It also had badges, awards, and achievements to motivate me.

Here below is a video introduction of the 3DGamelab.

This all sounds great and I get really excited until… I remember that I’m not using the 3DGamelab system, I’m using Blackboard…But wait! There has got to be some way to implement these ideas (at least partially) using a standard LMS. Right? Now, I’m bound to figure out some way to implement these principles in a regular online class using Blackboard. I think its going to be a little tricky but its definitely worth considering!

Have any tips for me? Do you do quests or badges in your online courses (or using a standard LMS)? Please leave  comments in the area below.

Invent an App in a Snap! – For Your Class….Again!

I was a huge fan of the Android App Maker by Google. It was so simple and easy to use. With just a few clicks, one could quickly create a simple app and use it for teaching topics in online or blended learning. However, sadly, Google shut down support for the App Inventor and that was it….. until now!


Thanks to MIT, you can once again begin building apps using the MIT App Inventor. It still has the simple drag and drop functions so don’t worry about programming. I’m really excited to check it out!

Have you built an app for your class using the MIT App Inventor? What do you think? How have you used the apps you built for teaching or learning?

Interested in Mobile Learning? Check out a few of my previous posts:

8 Ways to Jumpstart Mobile Learning

14 Crucial Tips for Mobile Learning

A 100% Mobile Course Using Blackboard Mobile: PE

13 Superstar Mobile Apps for Blended Learning

Social Networking: Educators Jumping Out of the Silos!

Growing up in Idaho, you see a lot of these silos. They work great for storing materials and keeping them separate and isolated from other materials. Isolation is good in this sense because you don’t want to mix the “outside” with what’s “inside”.


Unfortunately, in education, too often we live and work in silos, trying to solve problems, innovate, and advance education with only a limited view of what we are doing, unable to see “how others are doing it” or being able to ask questions to those doing the same thing we are doing simply because we don’t know them. Conferences are great but sometimes you want more!

When was the last time you searched out someone doing your similar role at a different institution and started collaborating? I realize that some are not interested in sharing ideas or collaborating and that is okay, but there many educators that would love to ask  questions and receive feedback, suggestions, and responses. With all the growth of Professional Learning Communities, I think now is the time to start asking questions and really collaborating, building upon ideas to advance education. What works for one situation may help in another. Why reinvent the wheel again and again?

Follow me on Twitter at @Kodystimpson, if you are interested in online learning, Edtech, Instructional Design or Technology.

I also just created a new Twitter account specifically for educators interested in Online Learning in Higher Education @HigherEdOnlineL  It doesn’t matter what college, university, or school you work in. If you’re interested in collaborating, asking questions about online learning in Higher Ed (policies, processes, best practice, instructional design, tools, etc), please follow and ask your questions, I’ll tweet them out and let’s get some answers. Also be sure and reply to other’s questions. You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be willing to SHARE your perspective.

So let’s begin collaborating & break out of these silos once and for all!

If your still wondering about whether to create a Twitter account, check out this post on Why Every Educator Should be On Twitter.

See you there!

Motivate Your Students to the Max! – Using ARCS Motivation

I was thinking about the ARCS model of motivation the other day and it reminded me of how important the concepts are for any course. Below are a few thoughts on the ARCS (attention, relevance, confidence, satisfaction) model and how to integrate it into course design for online or hybrid courses.  


The ARCS Motivational Model:

Get Your Students ATTENTION

When a student first logs into the course site or LMS (learning management system), is the banner engaging? Do you have an introductory video or prompt that will get them really excited about starting the course? Do they know who you are and why you’re passionate about this topic or course? As you develop new modules, is there an article, a clip, an interactive, or something that quickly pulls them into the topic? Think about the blockbuster movies, within the first 5 minutes they are trying to pull in their viewers to peak their interest and hold them captive. Is there anything you might do in your course to accomplish similar results?

Make What You’re Teaching RELEVANT:

It’s sometimes difficult to remove ourselves emotionally from the topics we teach. As good teachers we’re passionate about our areas of expertise. We live it and we love it! However, take a moment to consider this… Your student may not share that level of passion about the topic and the ONLY way you may infuse it in them is by making the content relevant to them. Does your course leverage surveys and polls? Are there discussion prompts that are thoughtfully calculated to encourage students to “prove” to eachother why the topic is relevant to them?  Are blogs used to help student’s journal and post on topics that are related to the course content while also being of interest to them? Are current events embedded in the lessons so students see that the course is relevant far beyond the next test or even semester?

Build their CONFIDENCE:

Consider the students that often sit silent in class, too embarrassed to respond to questions for fear of being wrong. When students no longer fear failure, they are empowered to try. Online learning allows unlimited opportunities of practice through auto-check review practices. Do you have self-check activities prior to graded assignments or assessments? Why not help them figure out what they need to review even before they submit their assignment. Does the feedback you offer build their confidence? If they are failing in a particular areas of the course,you may reflect on the lessons and assignments in that module. Which modules have the lowest grades for them? Can there be additional material, an alternative assignment, or a web conferencing study session for those problem areas?

I still remember a Geometry class that I loved! I’ve always struggled with Math but there was one class I remember where I really got it. It’s been over 15 years since then but I still remember how great it was to be confident I knew how to complete the assignments. Are objectives clearly listed to help students know where they are headed in your class? Are they encouraged to call you anytime (most of the time)? Do you create an environment through announcements, text alerts, or email that encourages them to call you when they are struggling? These ideas can help students increase both their confidence in learning the topic as well as inspires them to be confident that you are there to assist them as they need it.

Encourage their SATISFACTION:

What reward will your students have after completing a lesson, topic, or course? Have they achieved some level of satisfaction beyond the grade? What types of praise might they receive for doing well and how may it be delivered? Are there formative assessments that you referred to and used to help you adapt your teaching as needed? Do you respond to emails from students within 24 hours with encouraging feedback? Are there built in rewards for reinforcing positive behavior in the discussion boards, assignments, peer review work, or blogs? What might you do for your particular content area that will help students feel satisfied well after they complete a module?


What are some things you have done in your online or hybrid / blended courses that increase student motivation?

3 Steps to Zap Life Into Your Course With Surveys!

Recently, I was blown away by  an onlineRace & Gender Issues” course here at UNLV. Not only was the course well designed and very interesting, but for each module, there were specific surveys that really encouraged the students to get excited about the topics explored. It made me think about what an important tool surveys and polls can be in online and hybrid courses.

If you want to increase the interest level or help students relate what your teaching to their everyday life, then a well designed survey is a simple way to work towards that.

From a students perspective, the most interesting courses are ones that are applicable and relevant to them. Most instructors are passionate about their content area but only some of them are able to convert their passion into something that students relate to. It’s true that we aren’t all passionately interested in the same things. However, when we integrate the student’s perspectives, passions, opinions, and thoughts, not only do they become more connected with the content but everyone enjoys the topic and everyone learns together! That is why surveys are so great! Here are just 3 steps to zap some life into a course.



3 Steps to Zap Life into Your Course with Surveys!

1. Explore the free survey tools that are available!  Sometimes the best thing to do is to take a couple minutes and check out the options. Seeing samples and types of surveys out there will be a great start in helping you design high quality, interesting, and successful surveys for students. Here are just three tools that I think are amazing!

  • Polldaddy.com is awesome! In just a few minutes you can create a poll question or survey and embed it right into your LMS (Learning Management System) or presentation. Students can vote and immedietely see results.
  • Polleverywhere.com allows students to use their mobile devices to send a text or respond online to the survey question and it’s immedietly reflected. You can embed these in PowerPoint or other presentations, asking your students to respond using their devices. No clickers needed!
  • Surveymonkey.com allows you to develop a thorough survey asking multiple choice, likert scale questions and much more. It allows up to 100 respondents for free. It’s a great tool to help you find out what your students think about the course and what suggestions they have for you to consider in future revisions which leads me to step 2.

2. Find Out What Your Students Think About Your Course! Feedback like this is crucial when you review and make updates/changes to your course. As we all know, curriculum development is never ending so why not let your students help you! Consider how the following info might influence how you revise your course:

  • Which topic are they most interested in?
  • Which part of the course/module/lesson do they like the most/least and why?
  • Which module could benefit from additional practices or lesson aids
  • Do they have any feedback regarding: course design, instructor interaction, the etextbook, or course materials?

Successful companies always encourage feedback from their clients. Your students are your clients and their feedback can help in many ways. After just a single survey of gathering feedback like this, you can target needed areas of course improvement, plus imagine how empowering it is for them to know that you care enough to revise the course and make it better based on their suggestions. Just because students offer suggestions, doesn’t mean you have to do it all, but at least you will know what they are thinking. Also one other tip, don’t “over survey” your students. For best results consider the length and time restrictions your students may have.

3. Survey/Poll Students on Course Related & Thought Provoking Issues!

If you visit a news website, it’s likely there will be a poll question on the page which relates to a current topic of interest. It’s hard for me to ignore them. I’m always curious to vote and see how my thoughts correlate with the majority. Students are the same way!

Carefully review the topics you are teaching and consider how students might be individually interested in it. Here are a few survey question starters:

  • What do you think about….
  • Which of the following are…
  • How do you feel about….
  • When do you….
  • Where do you….
  • Why do you…

Then list the options. Questions/Polls can be simple yes/no questions or more advanced allowing students to post their individual responses for all to see. The key is to survey them on topics that are related to the objectives of the course while also relevant and interesting to your students.


What other ways have you used surveys/polls in your course? Have you seen an increase in student satisfaction, course completion, etc since using surveys?  What tips do you have for design? Please share your thoughts in the comments area!

Online Tools to Integrate Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction!

There are a variety of Instructional Design models and theories but one that I have always been impressed with is Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction.  I think it’s a great process and with the different tools available online, you can really make courses engaging and effective for online or blended learning. Here are just a few ways you can do it with online tools.

Online Tools to Integrate Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction:

1. Gain Attention.

Get the learners attention by presenting something interesting that will help prep the students for what they are about to learn

  • Videos (TED videos are fantastic and intriguing, Youtube, Teachertube, Discovery Streaming, PBS, etc. Find a brief video that grabs their attention and gets them excited to learn more!
  • Articles (CNN or other news sites contain thousands of articles which can be shared. Find a mysterious, strange, intriguing, or otherwise interesting article to start them off on the topic. Remember what is interesting to you may not necessarily be interesting to a student so try and find an article that will really grab their attention and appeal to their interest.
  • Photos (Flikr and other great image sites have pictures of anything and everything. We’ve always heard that a picture can mean a thousand words. Throw a picture out there to get their attention, or even better have them discuss it using discussions or Voicethread. Be sure that it’s not just a regular picture (ex: For Biology, a picture of a body), instead find a picture that will get their attention and keep it. They expect to see a picture of a body for Biology, but what relates to Biology, gets them excited, but is not expected? That is where it gets more captivating. 

2. Inform Learners of Objectives.

It seems obvious but often this critical component is overlooked. Let student’s know what the goal is of the course, unit, or lesson.

  • Voki.com or Xtranormal.com text type to movie tool is great for creating a simple video letting students know what they will learn. Be sure and include why they are learning it!
  • Wordle.net is a good tool to simply create a graphic representation of the important objectives that will be covered in the lesson. You can make the text of the words larger to strengthen its meaning.

3. Stimulate recall of prior learning.

Too often we forget to review what was covered earlier to help students prepare themslves to learn more. I always appreciated the classes that had a review built into the beginning of them because it really inspired confidence in getting ready to learn more.

  • Review Practices.  Hotpotatoes (free), Raptivity, Articulate Quizzmaker, or Engage, really any of these tools work great for creating practices which can review earlier studied material. Since they all give automatic feedback it can quickly help students review and remember what was covered earlier.  A lot of times these review practices are already created so all you have to do is simply link to them and make a note that they are available for review if needed.
  • A Podcast or Video Podcast is a great way to review what was just covered and then get the students excited about what is coming up ahead. Remember the goal of this to help them remember what they already know and then link it correctly to what they will learn. Aviary.com has a great free online music & podcast maker.

4. Present the Content.

Presenting the content should be much more than a link to power point slides or an etext. The best presentations are engaging and require the participant to interact.  In an earlier post I mentioned the different ways that you can get students to interact with the content of the lesson.

  • Presentation Interactions – Content is presented and is interactive, Softchalk is great because it allows students to hover over text or images and additional information appears. Instead of just reading the lessons, students can interact with the lesson.

5. Provide “learning guidance”

Guiding the student to learn the objectives in a way that helps them expand their learning is essential.

  • Video Interactions – Videos are great but using Camtasia Studio you can take a video and add in questions that pop up at key points of the video, effectively “waking up students” and helping them reflect more as they answer the questions while they watch the videos.
  • Provide feedback to students through written, audio, or video explanation (maybe using Jing to create a quick demonstration video or walkthrough of the submitted assignment).

    6. Elicit performance

    • Practice Interactions – Practices are essential in helping students prepare for graded assessments. These practices can help them remember the concepts and apply it when it comes time for an assignment, project, or other graded assessments.
    • Learning Games -Why not throw in simple learning games (Raptivity or Elearningbrothers learning flash games)to help them practice what they have learned.
    • Leverage blogs to allow students to post what they know, what they learned, and even what they are most interested in that relates to the topic. Then offer feedback and comments which brings us to the next event.

    7. Provide feedback

    • Practices provide essential feedback for students. As one blogger mentioned “When students no longer have a fear of failing, they will be empowered to try”.  Automatic feedback practices are great for allowing students to quickly get on target in the areas where they struggle.
    • Feedback can be given using email, text message, or phones, during webinars using web conferencing tools, or face to face. The key is to provide feedback to the students in a timely manner and that the feedback be geared towards helping them learn from their mistakes and get back on track.

    8. Assessment

    • Projects, projects, and more projects (opportunities for students to create)!  A project can be a presentation, a blog post, a group wiki, or even a video demonstration. 
    • Leverage tools like Voicethread, xtranormal.com, voki.com, etc that allow students to create things using tools they already like to use. Have them SHOW you what they have learned by CREATING something.
    • Assessing vocabulary, mere facts, and figures is often done by multiple choice, true false, or short answer questions, but encouraging the students to create presentations, projects, and blog articles helps them use that information to help shape their learning in much more enjoyable ways.

    9. Enhance retention and transfer

    • Blog posts – (WordPress, blogger, Posterous, etc). Encourage the students to transfer what they have learned in the unit to their everyday life and post about it. You will be amazed at all the different ways students can apply the topic and if you encourage them to post and read other students blog posts, it empowers students to be the “salesman” to their classmates, telling them why this topic is so great and applicable to their lives. Never again need students sit in their seats and ask “now why I am learning this”? Blogs one tool to use to help them express what they have learned and apply it to themselves.

    The most important thing to remember is that it isn’t the tool that is going to make or break your course. It’s how you use it!

    What other tools have you found to be effective in helping students learn? Please share with us your thoughts below.