Recently in Online Learning strategies Category

Video Ant: A video annotation tools

According to a recent article in the Chronicle of the Higher Education, it is found in a new study that many online instructors aren't taking advantage of interactive instructional tools like online video. Instead, the professors are relying on static (i.e., text based) course materials and assignments. These text-based course materials aren't likely to motivate students very much.

For instructors who are using or planning to use video in their courses, I would like to introduce the 'Video Ant (', an easy video annotation tools created by U of M.

video ant screen2.jpg

Using video ant, students can critique and annotate their idea about a video on Youtube or Media Mill.

You can find more information and video tutorials of Video Ant in Video Ant Blog.

As an example of utilizing the Video Ant, Tani Bialek, an instructor in OLPD let her online course students find a video on Youtube related to the course topic. And then, students are required to discuss, critique, and annotate it. The annotated videos are then posted on the Moodle site for all students in the course to view.

Read more about Bialek's story in another TEL blog entry.

Cheating, Technology, and Teaching

Who would have thought that great advice to teachers for preventing cheating might come from Turnitin, the company that earns money buy selling its service to colleges and professors hoping to sniff out plagiarism?

This graphic from Turnitin shows the sources of students used when plagiarizing and, at the bottom, provides some tips on developing "plagiarism-proof assignments". There is no such thing; if someone really wants to cheat, they likely can find a way. However, the tip to break up assignments, with various due-dates, is a big deterrent to students purchasing papers. I have also heard of professors building toward major assignments and projects with smaller, discrete assignments. For example, assigning students to find sources on a topic or research question. Later, asking students to write an abstract of several articles they found for their source assignment. Another assignment might build on those assignments into a literature review. Again, organizing assignments like this will not prevent cheating in all cases, but it can help by making it much more difficult for students to cheat.

The Chronicle has a recent article about cheating as well. Two points really struck me - some students feel very uncertain in knowing when they have plagiarized and when they have not. I was surprised by this - wouldn't you know if you copied and pasted someone else's words into your paper and didn't cite them?

The other point was that students are not taught the more complex skill of engaging with texts and summarizing main points. The Chronicle article interviewed someone from the Citation Project , which studies how students cite sources in papers. The aim, their website says, is to help educators develop "best practices for formulating plagiarism policies and for teaching rhetorically effective and ethically responsible methods of writing from sources." From the studies of student papers done so far, they find that students often pull quotes from the first few pages of articles and don't engage deeply with the overall arguments. This is useful information in understanding how plagiarism happens and how to improve student writing.

Finally, in the comments on the Chronicle article, someone linked to this excellent resource (pdf) from the University of Wisconsin that describes the difference between quoting, paraphrasing, and citing sources.

my Brainshark

I recently attended a workshop held by Center for Teaching and Learning. The workshop introduced several technologies that may be used in classrooms. I will try to share a few among them that I think useful.

my Brainshark


First one is my Brainshark ( This is a free web tool that enables you to create and share multi-media presentations.

A basic use of my Brainshark will be creating a narrated presentation. You just upload your powerpoint slides and record your narration for each page. If there are some animation actions in your slides, my Brainshark shows them, too.

Combination of media

A very nice thing about this is you can mix powerpoint slides (.ppt, .pptx, & .odp), video files (.wmv, .swf, & .flv), and documents (.doc, .docx, .pdf, .xls, .xsx, .odt, & .txt) in one single presentation. And you can add attachment files to the presentation that users can download.

Seeing is believing. Watch an example multimedia presentation by my Brainshark.

Possible usage in the classroom

In-class PowerPoint project presentations are used in many classes. However, they take a lot of class time and are often poorly delivered. As suggested in the workshop, instructors can ask students (or student teams) to create a multimedia presentation. And once uploaded, instructors and other students can view/review the presentations online at anytime.


  • Presentations uploaded in my Brainshark is available to the public. A paid version offers the ability to make presentations private.

  • Uploads of individual content files are limited to 200MB.

What online instructors would like to say to students (part 2)

At the Minnesota elearning summit this year, I had the chance to 'read' the minds of several online instructors when they were asked an important question, "What would you like to say to online learners?"

Below is the continuation of the list of comments that instructors would like to say to students (Read part 1 here):

  • Online courses are not easier than traditional courses

This is perhaps one of the most common misconception about online learning. The workload for online and offline classes is usually the same, and can sometimes be even more demanding to make up for the lack of group exercises, discussions and activities typical in a classroom setting. The University of Minnesota online programs are equivalent to the on-campus degree programs, generally with the same instructors, program requirements, and curriculum. As a result, the online courses at UMN are not any easier, and require the same amount of work and dedication as a classroom-based course.

Many students report that online courses require that they be more disciplined, self-motivated and independent in order to complete readings and assignments on time. Students who lack those qualities may in fact find online courses much more difficult than traditional courses.

At the end of the day, whether an online course is easy or hard really depends on many factors such as the individual student's comfort in an online environment, the level of engagement in the course, and the difficulty of the course materials. Students who assume that a course is easier just because it is offered online would definitely be in for a rude awakening.

Sources: Are online courses easier than campus classes?; Are online classes are easier than traditional classes?; FAQ: General questions

  • I might need a few days to respond to your questions

It is not uncommon for many online students to expect an email reply from their instructors minutes after sending out an email, especially if they notice that the instructor is online. This is especially the case when an assignment deadline or test date is near. It is important to recognize that many instructors teach more than one course and often have many emails to reply to. As a result, they may not always have the time to reply to your email minutes after you send it. To ensure that your instructor replies to you on time, do not wait till the last minute to look at the requirements for the assignment or test.

  • Just because a course is online does not mean it has less involvement or less interaction

This is another commonly held misconception about online learning. It is a rare online course at the University that does not require interaction between students, often through discussion boards, group assignments, shared readings, and even small group synchronous chats. The level of interaction will depend on how the course is designed by the instructor. National research shows that students who feel engaged and connected to their classmates and instructor are more likely to succeed in online courses, so the group activities serve an important purpose.

  • Do not be quitters!

As with any course, traditional or online, to be a successful student requires determination, keeping a positive attitude and believing in yourself. If at first you do not succeed, understand what went wrong, make efforts to learn from the mistakes, pick yourself up and then try again. Never be afraid to ask for help if you are having problems understanding the course materials, and knowing your learning style will definitely make learning a lot easier.

Take a survey to help determine your study habits and learning preferences. Also, read here for characteristics of a successful online learner.

Get the complete picture. Read part 1 of this article.

What online instructors would like to say to students (part 1)

0-postitnotes-postitdiecutpads-bulbballoonpostitnote33_sm.jpgAs a student (not too long ago), I remembered thinking that it would be really nice if I could read the minds of my instructors so as to know their expectations, thoughts and strategies about how to become a successful online learner. Oftentimes instructors are good at communicating their expectations to students and are always willing to share resources and strategies to help students improve.

However, as students we tend to have our own preconceived notion of how things are and how they work, and sometimes those notions are wrong. For instance, I often hear people say that online classes are less demanding or that they are less interactive and personal than traditional classes. Those are common misconceptions, and cannot be farther from the truth.

At the Minnesota elearning summit this year, I finally had the chance to 'read' the minds of several online instructors when they were asked an important question, "What would you like to say to online learners?"

Below is a list of comments that instructors would like to say to students:

  • Having good time management is important

Knowing how to effectively use and manage your time is an important factor for success. One of the many benefits of taking an online course is flexibility and convenience - you don't have to drive to campus three times a week at specific times. However, that means the onus is on you to stay on top of the assignments and understand the course materials, which means it is crucial that you manage your time wisely. This time management quiz can help you recognize how you spend your time and strategies you can use to manage your time better.

  • Read first, ask later

Understand that your instructor is very busy and most likely teaching more than one course. While many instructors would gladly answer questions that you may have about the assignments or course requirements, it is always important to read the syllabus thoroughly. It also reflects well on you when you demonstrate initiative and resourcefulness.

The same can be said about assignments and course materials. Asking questions when the answers can be found in the course material is a dead giveaway to instructors that you have not read the required materials. Asking clarifying questions is always encouraged but be sure to demonstrate knowledge of the subject such as referencing examples or key concepts when asking a question. That way, the instructor will know that you have read the materials.

  • Prioritize assignments and do not procrastination

If you wait till the final hour to complete your assignments, chances are the quality of your work will not be very good. With so many assignments, course readings and quizzes to complete, prioritizing them can help you reduce stress and worry. Create a to-do list to help you get organized.

Understand if your procrastination is related to a project, assignment or simply a habit. For example, does your procrastination stem from a feeling of being overwhelmed because you don't feel you understand the material well enough to complete the assignment? The remedy to that is different than if your procrastination is a regular habit. This study guide offers strategies on how to overcome procrastination.

  • Let me know if there is a life changing moment that leads to your absence from the class for a time

Life happens and most online instructors understand that some things in life are really beyond your control. However, if you are not willing to speak up and explain your situation, they will not be able to help you. Many non-verbal cues are absence in an online environment, which makes it difficult for online instructors to know if you are having problems. Instead of dropping the course or not logging in for long periods of time, speak to the instructor.

To continue reading, click here for part 2

Succeed in online learning: 5 essential skills

Planning to take an online course or currently enrolled in an online program? If so, An Introduction to Online Learning, a new website for online learners, is a great resource to have.

Learn and tune up the five essential skills you would need to be successful in an online course or program: Learning styles, computer skills, time management, staying focused and utilizing web tools.

This site is complete with entertaining and informative videos, presentations and podcasts as well as to-do checklists to keep you on task. The journal activities and tutorials will also help you learn the materials more efficiently and successfully.

Learning essential skills to be successful in an online course has never been easier and more fun. Remember to bookmark this website!

Tips on how not to let nerves get the better of you

Remember the time you had to give an important presentation and you were so worried about performing well that you simply froze despite hours of rehearsal the night before? Maybe it was the time you had to take a critical test and you were so stressed out that your mind simply went blank the moment your pen/pencil touched the paper?

Crumbling under pressure afflicts a lot of people, including those who are very talented. Though some people might attribute such embarrassing failures to lack of preparation, associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, Sian Beilock, argues to the contrary.

Even the most prepared presenter or test taker can still fall victim to what professor Beilock terms, "paralysis by analysis," which happens when a person thinks too much about what (s)he is doing. In an article by the University of Chicago, Beilock explains that thinking too much about specific parts of a task because of the fear of failing can throw off even the most well-practiced techniques.

To prevent your brain from being "paralyzed," a simple trick of singing, humming or whistling can prevent portions of the brain that might interfere with performance from taking over, Beilock's research explains.

Beilock also discovers that worrying depletes the working memory necessary for success. When people are anxious or stressed about a particular task, they often lose brainpower necessary for success. This means that even the brightest students can "choke" if anxiety steers their mental energy away from the part of their brain that processes information. Consequently, a stressed student can tap out her or his mental resources and forget crucial details needed to perform a task or answer a question.

Fortunately for students (or anyone) prone to "choking" under pressure, there is a simple solution out of that state of mind. A new study, also by the University of Chicago, found that students who were prone to test anxiety improved their high-stakes test scores by nearly one grade point after they were given 10 minutes to write about what was causing them fear. According to the study, the writing exercise allowed students to unload their anxieties and worries before taking the test and thus freed up brainpower that is normally occupied by worries about the test. This in turn allowed students to successfully complete the test.

Beilock's research is applicable to all kinds of performance anxiety such as giving an important presentation, interviewing for an important job, public speaking or any activity where the stakes are high.

In addition to the above tips, Beilock lists her best 5 strategies on how to remain calm under pressure, which can also be found in this article by TIME magazine.

Write. Pause. Practice. Do not over think. Distract. I will definitely use these strategies in future!

woman on phone.jpgWhen we think of solutions for supporting student retention and engagement, we tend to think of strategies that employ the use of sophisticated technologies, learning management systems, and/or software that are usually informed by equally sophisticated data mining methods such as Purdue's Signals project, University of Phoenix's Learning Genome Project and nudge analytic. While the role action analytic, advanced technologies and 'intelligent' LMS play in increasing student retention is highly critical and cannot be ignored, these initiatives also require a lot of resources and time to develop.

What about the here and now?

As proven by the University of Illinois at Springfield, and Dunlap and Lowenthal of the University of Colorado, Denver, strategies that involve interpersonal interaction can also greatly support student engagement and retention. By effectively enhancing students' sense of connection with their instructors and courses, students are more likely to be motivated and stay motivated. The good news is these strategies harness the resources that most people already have.

In a recent Educause Quarterly Magazine article, Dunlap and Lowenthal share communication strategies for establishing personal one-on-one relationships between online students and faculty. Instead of using high-tech software or sophisticated learning platform systems, Dunlap focuses on low-technology devices that almost all faculty and students now have at their disposal - telephone and email.

A brief phone conversation at the start of the course can go a very long way in establishing a sense of connection and building a foundation for trust, Dunlap explains. This is because a phone conversation about the course usually ends up being a very individualized discussion where students talk about work and families. Through this conversation, instructors might be alerted to issues that might affect the student's performance in the course such as hectic travel schedule, family or job responsibilities. Consequently, it allows instructors to preamp possible distractions and disruptions to the student's progress in the course. A phone conversation also allows the instructor to establish him or herself as a reliable source of feedback and support.

Establishing ongoing, one-on-on communication throughout the course is not an easy feat and may not be practical for some instructors due to their busy schedules. However, this type of support is often critical to students' success. Furthermore, the benefits are clear - opening the gates of communication enhances student retention in the course because it allows instructors to address individual student needs and provide individualized feedback. As Dunlap has discovered, never underestimate the power of building relationships between faculty and students, which can be achieved by using even the most simple and mundane of technologies.

Faculty and staff at the University of Illinois Online program would likely agree with professor Dunlap. In another article in the Educause Quarterly Magazine, the University of Springfield attribute their high retention and complete rates (equivalent to and sometimes even exceed those in their corollary on-campus degree programs) in the online degree programs to the strong relationship among staff, faculty and students.

Program coordinators & peer mentors

peer mentoring.jpgIn order to build trust and support students, UIS encourages the use of program coordinators in each degree program. Program coordinators play a crucial role in students' success by keeping track of their schedules and progress towards degree completion and intervene when they think the student's progress might be in jeopardy. They support students who face challenges in their courses and advocate for them on administrative and bureaucratic matters.

In addition to program coordinators, UIS also implemented an online peer-mentoring program in which experienced online students act as role models. They answer questions about the course and facilitate discussions. The whole point of UIS mentoring program is for less experienced students to observe and hopefully, model after the behavior of successful online students. This strategy has proven to be effective. In a project to study the effects of peer mentors on student retention, UIS with the partnership of seven other Illinois community colleges, discovered that the non-completion rate in the courses studied was reduced and more importantly, student success rate improved.

As Dunlap and Lowenthal, along with UIS have exemplified, some of the most effective strategies do not always involve complex equations, super-advanced technologies and LMS.

Tips from online learners: Suggestions

Time management is everything for someone contemplating online learning. While online learning means flexibility and convenience, it also requires self-discipline. Hear what an online student has to say about the importance of time management.

Things I learned about myself as an online student

Being an online student also means stepping outside one's comfort zone such as making changes to one's study habits and learning styles.

Changes I had to make as an online student

While online learning gives you more flexibility in managing your work-life-study commitments, it sometimes requires you to make certain changes in your habits/lifestyle. Hear what a student has to say about some of the changes he had to make to accommodate his online classes.

Surprises about online learning

Online learning is all about working independently. Wrong, that's a myth. It also includes collaboration. An online student shares her experiences in an online course that she has little background in.

Tips from online learners: Wish I had known

Myth 1: Online learning takes up less time. Wrong, it does not. In fact, it takes up as much time if not more. Listen to what online students have to say about their experiences.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Online Learning strategies category.

Issues in Higher Ed is the previous category.

Success stories is the next category.

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