Focus On Student Learning Series (FOSL)

The FOSL series offers monthly workshops dedicated to topics related to student learning. This semester, FOSL’s were structured around the topic of online teaching and learning. From January through April, sessions covered everything from The Basics of Online Teaching to enhanced use of multimedia and other tech tools, all aimed at assisting faculty in developing a cohesive, learning-centered, online classroom environment. Our intent was to better aid faculty with time-saving and effective teaching tips as they transition to the new calendar and new 120-credit hour curriculum.  These and other past FOSL workshops are available on DVD for a four-day checkout from the Scarborough Library; ask for the specific month or topic by name within the “FOSL Reserves”.

The spring 2011 FOSL series began in January when Shepherd librarians Ann Henriksson and Laura Neal led a discussion on Library Tour & Tips. Library resources, services and databases were highlighted. Faculty learned how to put classroom materials on reserve, request textbooks and renew materials through the library website, and access databases on every research topic conceivable. Library listings are cataloged based on the Library of Congress classification system and all content can be located using the filter and search tools on the library website homepage. Once a needed item is identified, you can request library staff to pull the material for you, using the FETCH! system, so that you can simply pick it up for checkout at the front desk. The online database, EBSCOhost, includes a full text journal listing and other scholarly research resources. Students, faculty and staff were all encouraged to make greater use of the resources available to them at the Scarborough Library.

In February, campus Instructional Technologist, Lauryl Lewis, covered The Basics of Online Teaching and the initial process for setting up an online classroom. She highlighted the importance of a clean, organized layout; clearly defined expectations for students; consistency; and how to avoid cognitive overload. With an increase in the number of Shepherd faculty teaching online, students must be encouraged to be self-motivated, so Lewis stressed the need for “checkpoints” throughout the course to ensure students were actively participating and keeping up with coursework. SAKAI is the online learning management system currently in use on this campus, and an explanation of useful features and tools within it was also addressed.

The March FOSL session covered a very important, useful tool for online teaching: the discussion board. Again Lewis led this workshop, explaining how to have students upload a photo or brief bio as an introductory icebreaker. Mutual respect, academic and intellectual integrity, and “netiquette” were all stressed to ensure a positive, professional classroom discussion environment. Once students have engaged in an online discussion, identify areas of agreement or disagreement and reinforce comments with positive feedback. The instructor should guide the discussion, but also give students time and room to expand their dialogue. Bringing in supportive content from a diverse array of sources can also enhance the discussion. Responding to technical concerns is also important, but doing so outside of the discussion board, such as in a separate “student lounge” or “technical FAQ” space within your SAKAI classroom is encouraged. Discussion boards can be a vibrant space for online learning and participation in this arena can be made a major part of the student’s grade for the course. Be sure to outline in your syllabus (which should also be made always available on SAKAI under the “Syllabus” link) the percentage of grade students will earn for participating in discussion board posts, and consider providing a rubric to students to outline exactly what kind of input constitutes a strong, top-notch post. 

The final FOSL, held in April, covered Making the Most of Multimedia. Lewis used online videos and advertisements to show how the combination of graphics and words together helped people learn best. Use of videos, podcasts, online narration and animation can greatly increase student learning and help viewers retain information but you must be cautious not to combine too many of these resources, which would likely lead to cognitive overload. Clear and simple use of such tools is best, and Lewis suggested several online resources to help faculty discover free and easy to use multimedia tools. Among some of the many software sites mentioned were MERLOT, Camtasia, www.animoto.com, Screentoaster, Slideshare, and www.weebly.com.

For access to more helpful tips on online teaching, please visit the following link:  http://www.shepherd.edu/ctl/instructional_tech/asychronous-discussions.mov

Stay tuned for our fall 2011 schedule of FOSL offerings. If you would like to see a workshop offered to cover a specific topic, please let us know by emailing lrenning@shepherd.edu or calling (304) 876-5461. A big thank you to all of our recent FOSL presenters and attendees!