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Spring 2020

Session Notes and Resources (across both meetings, latest to earliest)

Session 4 (May 26th and 27th)

Some of the issues that were raised in these last pair of meetings included:
  1. Making Grading Manageable: Sometimes we may get overambitious regarding assignments. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/05/13/academics-should-rethink-way-they-assign-homework-opinion
Some ways to address this include:
    1. Creating a routine (see below) that gives you sufficient time to grade and staggers assignments so all assignments for a week are not due on the same day (maybe give students a checklist, too)
    2. Does every assignment need a grade?
    3. Discussion Board:
      • Is the post necessary for furthering your outcome(s)?
      • Can another activity (e.g., a case study) be embedded in it?
      • Is it necessary to comment on each post?
      • Can you instead make a single comment via an announcement?
      • Can you use a rubric and not give custom responses?
2.     Helping students navigate our courses:
      • Do you have a Start Here button on your menu?
      • Have you simplified your menu by hiding items you are not using and giving items clear names?
3.     Specifications Grading
      • Pluses: Holds standards high
      • Minuses: Does not recognize superior work
      • Adaptive Release might do the job, but only for pretesting
      • Maybe a rubric (Insufficient, Sufficient, Excellent) is better?
4.     Feedback on students’ experiences
      • They would like as much feedback as possible
        • Without it, they feel insecure
        • Includes assignment feedback
        • Includes reaching out (reminders, emails, announcements)
      • Many struggle with internet connections – very problematic for synchronous classes and timed tests
      • Many lack software (Microsoft Office 365 at bottom of BB home page)
      • Many struggle with time management (again, routines and checklists might help and a downloadable pdf with detailed schedule, by module, for entire semester
5.     Synchronous vs. Asynchronous – pros and cons of each
6.     Use of concept mapping https://gitmind.com/
7.     Using the student BB app to access a colleague’s course to really get the student experience
8.     Threshold concepts in program and course design https://www.ee.ucl.ac.uk/~mflanaga/thresholds.html
Sample Routine

Session 3 (May 12th and 13th)

Motivating Online Students (and Instructors)

We noted the theory that frames this section, Pekrun’s Control-Value Theory of Achievement Emotions. This brought to mind a Figure 3.2 on Motivation from How Learning Works which shows the effect of environment, efficacy, and value on motivation.

Creating Autonomy

Participants agreed on the value of creating autonomy as a way to motivate students. To that end, some participants have been offering choice in online discussion. For example, one professor asked students to choose and comment on one of four readings, assuming they would then share what they had learned with each other. But students mostly chose the same reading (the shorter one); other participants found that students, when offered a choice, simply seemed to respond to the first prompt. For another participant, “choice” took the form of dropping two discussion board grades, giving students some flexibility, and found that in comparing student responses to prompts, students posted more on prompts that reflected their interests, compared to those that were “easier.”

Participants had mixed views of specifications (all or nothing) grading. While some thought it was a great idea (the one who does the work does the learning, you either met the criteria or you didn’t), others found that the lack of variation in grading did not fairly reflect what students can do. The point was also raised that maybe the wide variety of grades we offer (including + and – grades) might be too subtle to be meaningful.

Some participants had experimented with inviting students to have a say in the syllabus and these explorations ranged from asking students to give feedback, to annotating the syllabus,  to having them co-create the syllabus. The idea of giving students the opportunity to add to the learning outcomes was pretty popular, whether those added outcomes reflected group or individual goals.

In short, participants supported the idea of encouraging autonomy and discussed the idea of allowing students more choice as a way of increasing student agency and fostering independence. The point was made, however, that some students seem unprepared to make choices in the academic setting, relying instead on instructors to make choices for them. As a result, we need to think about and develop ways to scaffold students toward autonomy. Tied to this, another participant brought up Dweck’s Growth Mindset and thought that this might improve student self-efficacy.

Making Connections

Participants recognized that having overarching frameworks is one feature that distinguishes experts from novices, and, with respect to suggestions in this chapter, were excited about partial outlines and concept maps. One participant noted that partial outlines might be particularly useful when student watch videos.

Developing as an Online Instructor

We didn’t have too much time to talk about this chapter in either group, but some participants thought that the idea of taking online classes was useful, not only to learn more but to see a course from the student perspective. Another participant was comforted the by the suggestion to make changes slowly.

Session 2 (April 28th and 29th)

We discussed Part II, Teaching Humans. Some participants felt that this section offered fewer strategies and one participant questioned how “small” some of the ideas were, but we also noted that this part gave some theoretical justification for some ideas that had been discussed in the first part.

Notes are organized by chapter topics:

Building Community

We discussed Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” and a few participants commented on the three types of presence identified by Garrison et al.’s Community of Inquiry framework: cognitive, social, and teaching. Most of the discussion here centered on:

  1. Groupwork – Some difficulties surrounding groupwork were considered, and some shared successful strategies which included giving clear instructions, structuring the working, and building in accountability (e.g., having some notes on who contributed) and offering a variety of modalities for group work products (e.g.,video). It was also noted that some credit needs to be assigned to groupwork.
  2. Discussion boards –  Again, challenges were discussed. Some ideas that emerged included making discussions low stakes assignments, having some structure re when posts would be made, giving concrete prompts, using groups to create smaller discussions, asking questions that invite a more personal response
  3. Peer review – we considered peer review groups of three in addition to peer review pairs, requiring a peer review before a student’s own paper would be graded, doing peer reviews on BB Collaborate.

Giving Feedback

For this chapter, participants mostly focused on office hours (one participant tried rebranding office hours and “consultations” and thought this was working and the use of rubrics to streamline grading. One participant requested the rubric shared in the KCeL session “Effective Online Teaching.” That rubric was a modification of one from Purdue. 

Fostering Student Persistence and Success

Here we talked about:

  1. Dweck’s Mindset Theory and noted, as Darby does, that it is not a magic bullet, and that it needs to go beyond simply saying “Good effort!.” We noted that scaffolding, from Chapter 2, can help build self-efficacy and here are a few short videos I have used with my students that I think also help:
  2. We talked about the Goals Contract, which most people did not think was helpful. For me, it’s a good idea for students to articulate their goals and for us to know what they are, but the contract part seems ineffective, as some of the participants noted.
  3. Some liked the idea of the Mastery Quiz but considered alternatives to an infinite number of attempts, which we felt would frustrate students. We thought about a few attempts and then a consultation with the instructor.

Next meetings will be May 12th at 10 am and May 13 at 3 pm. We agreed to report back re any strategy we might have tried.

Chapter notes are posted under separate menu item.

Session 1 (April 15th and April 21st)

We discussed the Introduction and first section, Designing for Learning, of Small Teaching Online (Darby and Lang, 2019).

We began by considering how online instruction, as described in the book, differs, and is similar to, face2face instruction. A few participants noted that for them, interaction and engagement were easier in face2face, more challenging, less “personal;” in online; it was noted that this would be addressed in the next section of the book, but some ways that interaction and interaction came up so far included the instructor being present on the discussion board and giving feedback, perhaps allowing students to post their “muddiest point;” and reaching out to students who disappeared or were disengaged. One participant noted that he had not yet tried having the students work in groups online, but that was also a possibility. A discussion re synchronous vs. asynchronous instruction took place, and points were made about making such choices based on what is needed to help students achieve learning outcomes; if asynchronous, in this respect, works but some students desire a synchronous experience, that might be offered as an additional, optional, support.

Some of the points raised, relevant to the chapters,  included:

  1. Surfacing Backward Design:

    • Start with the end goal, i.e.,student learning outcomes, and making these transparent and salient for students in online courses.
    • One suggestion was to refer to these frequently and use these outcomes to get students’ input on how well they feel the course helped them reach SLOs.
    • A question came up regarding the fear of putting too many outcomes in each module and suggestions were made to organize these into groups of outcomes and to then go back to review the partcular ones at the end of each module.
  2. Guided Learning through Engagement:

    • We talked a bit about scaffolding assignments
    • We discussed giving feedback:
      • One participant talked about trying something new — giving good formative feedback and not grading individual papers, but instead looking for growth, in terms of sociological analysis, across papers.
      • Another talked about giving extensive feedback on written work, including very directive editing, and the suggestion was made to consider more general feedback both to individual students (e.g., watch for subject-verb agreement throughout) and to the class as a whole, to reduce the amount of time needed to respond to student work.
  3. Using Media and Technology Tools

    1. The point was made to choose tools to solve a problem, instead of for the sake of using the tools.
    2. In other words, the teaching drives the technology, and not the other way around.
    3. A number of questions came up around technology; see Peter’s resources below.
    4. Polling came up as a good, fast way of seeing where students are at.
    5. The idea was suggested of creating a welcome video that could be sent to students and that would guide them on navigating BB for their course.
    6. Suggestions and questions came up re the use of tools not offered through BB, and other LMSs as well. The point was raised that as instructors, we need to be aware of issues of security, student privacy, and personal responsibility if using tools not supported by the KCC.

Takeaway: Designing a good online course takes time: Attention must be paid to aspects of teaching that we take for granted in face2face courses (e.g., students’ familiarity with classroom norms) that can be lost in the online environment, so instructors need to be extremely intentional in designing their courses.

Chapter notes are posted under separate menu item.

Resources and a note from Peter Santiago – thanks, Peter! 🙂

Hello all,

Great meeting today. It was great to see you all! Since I talked so much, thought I would follow up with some more information related to students creating audio files and YouTube Captions.

Allowing the postings of audio and video to Blackboard is kind of complicated, so it may not be something you want to integrate right away, but something to work towards if you feel it would enhance your course and the students would benefit from it.

Uploading dynamic media, though students should be asked to add captions to their videos and transcripts for audio files:



As you can see by the instructions adding media files is kind of a complicated process, so it might help to create a screencast video of the workflow for students.

Slack, WhatsApp and other chat services intuitively allow for posting of audio recording within the chat and are done right from the device being used, most usually a phone, but both work on a laptop or desktop as well.

Here is a good article on the uses and limitations of Slack in the online classroom.


Here’s one way students can make recordings through their phones.

Using an Android Phone


Using an iPhone


Re YouTube, first off I was incorrect, YouTube will automatically caption the videos you post, viewers just need to activate them when they arrive at your video, however I think there is a way to have them auto-activated when you upload them.  You should review the captions for accuracy and edit them if they are inaccurate.

Automatic captions


Info on how to correct the auto captions as they are often inaccurate


Adding your own captions for YouTube


Hope this helps and doesn’t drive anyone crazy.

Best regards, Peter


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