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It’s not an understatement to say that I am having a blast with my first experience teaching fully online this Screenshot 2014-04-09 21.54.06semester. I entered into the enterprise with a lot of trepidation. But now, as the semester comes to a close, I feel like the steep learning curve has been paired by a sense of confidence that very meaningful learning can happen in the online environment. For me, this has been a crucial ingredient that fuels my intellectual curiosity about online learning. After one semester in the “fully online” game, here’s my insights on the process so far:

1. Making a commitment to learning out loud. My students and I are working without a net, as they say, with no content management system like Blackboard, Moodle or Sakai. While certainly helpful for many people, I long ago became disenfranchised with those tools because they keep students inside a LMS walled garden and interfere with their learning to use the technologies they’ll need in the real world. The course home base is WordPress – we have a class page and each student has their own blog for the course. My students are using Twitter (using the hashtag #LSC530) and YouTube to communicate and express their ideas. Their work is public and shared – and I suspect that is partly responsible for the high quality work I’m seeing from them.

2. Creating face time for emotional connectedness. It’s my love of people that propels my interest in teaching. I host a 90-minute synchronous class using Google ON AIR Hangouts that helps me talk to students directly and interact through discussion and sharing. Students aren’t required to participate “live” – indeed most of my students simply watch the video and I don’t know them in a face-to-face sense. But the 4 – 8 people who participate in the live session are my lifeline to the success of the course: from them, I can tell “what’s working” and what they need. Thanks to Jennie Grant, Kaylen Shimoda, Linda Dieffenbach, Ariel Dagan and Katherine Hypolite for being there for me on Wednesdays at 7 p.m.!

3. Structuring online discussions in writing and video. I have been thrilled with the quality of discussion I am seeing from students as they respond to the course readings and integrate what they are learning with their own experiences and ambitions. We’re using Titanpad to share ideas and Flipgrid to record short video commentary. I review students’ comments and use bold highlighting to identify the ideas that are most provocative or productive to address the course goals — and guess what? I get even better responses each week.

4. Creating as a way to learn. I take pride in creating intensely engaging experiences for learners. Students get many varied opportunity to write, speak, compose and design messages to reflect what they are learning. Students have exercised remarkable creativity with their multimedia productions. And I’ve been thrilled by the simple Padlet as a way to support students’ experience working in a collaborative, creative team. Check out the course here. 

What’s Next. The next challenge for “Renee’s Adventures in Online Learning” circa 2014: creating a MOOC on copyright and fair use, with lots of help from colleagues Kristin Hokanson and Spiro Bolos. Can’t wait to see what we discover from this new grand adventure!

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