Are You ‘Present’ in Your Online Courses?

A paper from Inter American University of Puerto Rico highlights that an important factor in students’ satisfaction with online learning is the Social Presence of their teacher. Social Presence is defined as “the degree to which a person is perceived as a ‘real person’ in a mediated communication context” - the sense that there is someone there at the other end of the computer.
Social Presence promotes participation, integration and cohesion in the online community. It contributes to student motivation, and is associated with retention and completion rates in onlne courses.

How do we create a Social Presence in our courses and encourage students to be ‘there’ too?

Studies have focused on two types of indicators of Social Presence: Affective and Cohesive.

The Affective indictors of Social Presence include:

  • Conventional or unconventional expressions of
    emotion, including the use of repetitious punctuation,
    conspicuous capitalization, and emoticons.
  • Use of humor through teasing, use of irony,
    understatement, and sarcasm.
  • Self- disclosure evidenced in the inclusion of
    details of life outside the class or by expressing

Simple things like responses such as “good job!” “Success!” to discussions as well as more formal feedback; comments such as “you’ve made it to the end of Unit 1, now take a break before we start Unit 2″; or having a profile in the course that discloses something about your ‘real’ life (I usually find posting a photo of my dog works gets a positive response). These help create your Social Presence and encourage students to develop their own presence in response.

We’ll look at the Cohesive Indicators of Social Presence in a follow-up post, but in the meantime - what are methods do you use to create your Social Presence?

Add comment January 7th, 2014

How to Answer when a Student Asks “Did I Miss Anything?”

For a new year and a new term; a perfect answer to an age-old question.

Did I Miss Anything?

by Tom Wayman
From:   The Astonishing Weight of the Dead. Vancouver: Polestar, 1994.

                                                        Question frequently asked by
                                                        students after missing a class

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

        Everything. I gave an exam worth
        40 per cent of the grade for this term
        and assigned some reading due today
        on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
        worth 50 per cent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

        Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
        a shaft of light descended and an angel
        or other heavenly being appeared
        and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
        to attain divine wisdom in this life and
        the hereafter
        This is the last time the class will meet
        before we disperse to bring this good news to all people
       on earth

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

        Everything. Contained in this classroom
        is a microcosm of human existence
        assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
        This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

       but it was one place

        And you weren’t here

Add comment January 1st, 2014

What Really Motivates us?

As we come into the holiday season and the challenge of choosing the right gift for someone, consider this.
What kind of ‘rewards’ do you like? Chocolates? Flowers?
What is it that really motivates people to do their best? What motivates our students and what motivates us?

Author Dan Pink explores research into human motivation in this entertaining animated video from RSA
The key motivators he has found to be autonomy, mastery and purpose.

(or view on “>youtube )

Add comment December 17th, 2013

What is the Final Exam Worth?

It seems like to good time to consider: what is the value of final exams? In many institutions final exams are becoming a rarity; At Harvard in spring 2009 only 259 of 1137 courses had final exams. So is there still value in having a final exam?

Beyond the stress, anxiety and sleep deprivation they cause for students (and faculty) there are two major criticisms of final exams: first, the lack of feedback opportunities in them; second, the false sense of closure they give students.

Lack of feedback: frequently the only feedback that students receive on their final exam is the final grade; especially successful students. Unsuccessful students may have re-writes or some other form of remediation, and get feedback on their final exam performance. Generally, however, successful students don’t bother getting feedback on the final even if it’s available; they passed, so they move on. This is related to the second criticism.

False closure: one of the problems with a final exam is its…finality. Students get a sense that they are now done with the content of the course and don’t make connections to related and advanced courses they take subsequently. This disconnect can hamper student learning in later terms, and development of more holistic understandings.

What are the positives of final exams? Among the most common reasons faculty give for having final exams are: they are concerned students will have forgotten the early material and a comprehensive final insures they will review everything; and want to test students’ ability to pull everything together and “join the dots”. After 14 weeks with two or three one hour chunks of time each week, faculty want to see that student can put it altogether, and even do something with it.

One other consideration, I think, in favour of final exams is that for many college graduates the way into professional employment is by way of registration or certification exams. These can be multiple, even day-long exams that are the key to their professional future. Not giving students the experience of that kind of comprehensive, cumulative, summative evaluation (including facing the stress and anxiety) would be doing them a disservice.
So, at least while entry to practice exams exist there is a role for for the final exam.

More on this can be found at:
BMJ - Validity of Final Exams
Psychology Today - Are College Final Exams Disappearing
The Test Has Been Canceled: Final Exams Are Quietly Vanishing From College

Add comment December 10th, 2013

How to Read Student Evaluations

It will soon be time of the semester again when the results of Student Feedback on Teaching Surveys will be coming out. Most faculty, no matter how long they have been teaching or how confident they are of their abilities dread them; few, if any, look forward to them with enthusiasm. So how can you read them and use them constructively?

Read Them
Seems fairly obvious, but what teacher has not been tempted to not read student feedback sometime? We don’t want to read negative things about ourselves; who does? But you have to start by reading them, and not just a casual glance through them.
They will provide useful information to improve your teaching practice. Keep that in mind and start positive.

Put Them Aside
Negative comments sting, exuberant praise makes us elated (and those who leave comments are most likely to be those who hate you or love you as a teacher). You need, in the words of Kipling to “…meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.” The best way to do that is to give yourself some distance; go for a walk, a coffee or an ice cream and come back to them later. If you can leave them for a day or two or a week, so much the better, and you can then come back to them in a more objective frame of mind.

Look for Trends and Outliers
What are the general trends in the feedback? Identify categories that they fall into; they might be related to the course structure, assessment strategies or with the teaching style. What are the positives? What are things that work well that can be used to strengthen the areas that are weaker?
Look at the outliers. It’s tempting when overall data and comments are positive to ignore the outliers, but they do provide useful information. Perhaps your teaching style is not meeting the needs of all students’ learning styles, perhaps you need to be clearer in managing student expectations. Do you have underlying assumptions about your students that are no longer true about all of them?

Think Ahead
Use the questions in the Student Feedback survey to plan changes to your course. Not to ‘teach to the test’ or skew the course top get better ratings, but use them as a checklist for course design and teaching. For example: could you make it more explicit how the course connects to job requirements? Can you build in more opportunities for active participation?

Close the Loop
Record what you plan to do; not just to respond to specific issues that have been raised; but to improve your course and your teaching, because we can all always improve.

Links for further ideas on Interpreting student evaluations

Add comment December 5th, 2013

Gearing Up: Fall 2013!

Welcome back for another great semester at Mohawk!

As you put the finishing touches on your courses for Fall 2013, here’s a reminder of a few, new, cool tools brought to you by your CTL.

VoiceThread: Conversations in the Cloud

This newly integrated tool can boost engagement in discussions by allowing students to contribute using a variety of media. You and your students can also use it to showcase course material in a different format. Check it out!


Although not new, it continues to improve its integration with eLearn@Mohawk. Build and share your rubrics and comment sets to make feedback and assessment more seamless. Your colleagues are already making great use of comment sets - Language Studies instructors created and shared their own unique set. Students will receive comprehensive and consistent feedback and assessment and instructors will shave time!

Video Capture

Click on the graphic for the full lowdown.


Respondus Lockdown Browser

This is a customized browser that increases the security of online testing in eLearn. You as an Instructor can choose to require students to use the LockDown Browser when taking your quizzes. When students use LockDown Browser during a quiz, they are unable to print, copy, go to another URL, or access other applications until the quiz is submitted. Read more about it!

WISC Online Gamebuilder

Contact CTL to access this tool to change up your activities for diagnostic and formative assessment. There are a number of game templates to add more interest to quiz material. Here’s just one example:



This free tool is another great way to reinforce understanding of basic course concepts. Rather than a quiz on terminology, try Quizlet’s options. Your CTL has the paid version in case you want to use images and other affordances. Contact your Instructional Technologist. Here’s academic integrity terminology turned into a Scatter game: Play now!

Had issues loading large, homemade video to eLearn@Mohawk? We have the solution - Kaltura. The new Kaltura/eLearn integration allows you to easily upload large video files directly within eLearn to the Kaltura system, and easily publish and stream videos in eLearn courses.In addition, Kaltura allows you to easily create original recordings using your webcam, and integrate them in to your courses. Access the Info Sheet here.

There are many more interesting things afoot in CTL (Fennell A227). Make sure to check in with your eLearning contact for the latest and greatest teaching tools and learning support.

Add comment August 26th, 2013

It Was a Great Week to Be at Mohawk!

Wow - Mohawk was buzzing this past week. Unfortunately, I couldn’t participate in everything, but CEDP and Apps for Health were very worthwhile. Kudos to Roberta Burke, Christy Taberner and their crews and to Valerie Mitanoff and Jenna Pettit for keeping the the communication flowing.

At CEDP, it was great to meet faculty from multiple colleges who were eager and/or willing to overcome fear to experiment with educational technology to meet students’ need for differentiated instruction as well as align to their institutions’ strategies. Their questions and concerns were similar to those at Mohawk. They were a good reminder to double check understanding on a top concern.

  • A colleague at a sister college had to undergo an audit from Access Copyright. A good reminder that Copyright Law and attribution | academic integrity apply in online learning environments. Before, you would submit your courseware through the Book Store | Media Services where adherence to copyright was confirmed. But with many course resources living in eLearn@Mohawk, there is no process. To assist, the new templates for eLearn@Mohawk added a Resources sub-heading on its Module Overview page. Tracking the resources you use in each module will help cover you if copyright questions arise. And why not model proper citing for students and populate the Resources section in APA format! Check out Mohawk’s updated Copyright policy and connect with your Library with any questions or concerns.

Apps for Health’s panel presentation on Gamification sparked some thinking - the very idea that ‘gamification’ may be ephemeral. The three panelists of game designers proposed as sound instructional design is better understood, the reference to gaming will fall away. Structured activities that engage, challenge, and assess progress define the current buzzword, gamification, and have always defined sound instructional design.

A great observation by Andrea Bielecki (Invivo and Spongelab) highlighted further merging or more holistic thinking. A few years ago, a company may have considered its marketing strategy and then how a web presence might be factored into the mix. Nowadays, strategies would include all media - a company wouldn’t dream of excluding online in its initial strategy and budgeting.

I wonder how far are we from experiencing all players in education, considering the online requirements in teaching and learning and planning accordingly from the start? Rather than designing and developing a course and then figuring out what to put online, considering that online learning and the use of educational technology is just now part of our learning ecology. With this realization, the necessary players - SMEs, technologists, and designers - can come to the table and be given the time to collaborate and build (education’s strategy and budget) the best teaching and learning experiences.

Add comment May 21st, 2013

Academic Integrity: TurnItIn Supports Your Efforts

Plagiarism appears rampant at secondary and post-secondary institutions. TurnItIn has recently released interesting research on a number of facets relating to academic integrity. Here’s an example:

  • The Sources in Student Writing: Post-secondary: Captures information and feedback from 900 institutions worldwide, it presents a comprehensive perspective on the top sites used in students’ writing. From this infographic, you can connect to the full white paper.

To assist you in communicating plagiarism issues to your students, TurnItIn has re-crafted the spectrum of the 10 most common cases into student-friendly language and graphics. With a Creative Commons license to re-use freely for educational purposes, consider adding it to eLearn as a springboard to discussion or individual review. You can also read the entire 19 page report here.


A final aid in your efforts to teach students academic integrity is an interactive rubric to assist with your assessment of their understanding of resource evaluation. The SEER rubric, developed in collaboration with educators, has 5 criteria and 5 levels of performance ready to go! Because of its Creative Commons license, I was able to re-build it in eLearn@Mohawk. If you would like to associate this rubric with your Dropbox folder(s), please let me know (

If you are keen to inject more academic integrity activities and safeguards into your courses, stay tuned to the CTL PD calendar. There will be sessions targeting plagiarism and academic integrity during June and August - months the college’s focus turns to quality and innovation.

Until then, don’t hesitate to contact your colleagues in CTL with any questions or concerns.

Add comment April 26th, 2013

Blended Learning: Crib Sheet 2

Copyright Versus Copyleft

A main consideration for instructors designing and developing courses for blended delivery is resources. A secondary concern is resources. A tertiary concern is resources. I think you get the idea!

In the age of information overload, it is not a question of finding resources, but sifting through the fog to find relevant and appropriate resources for your students.

And the challenge isn’t over once you find resources! Another area of concern that creeps into our consciousness: do I have permission to use this resource? When you are not only consuming resources for your personal knowledge entertainment, but also wishing to distribute to a larger audience, there are additional considerations. Copyright comes into play. Now, the recently revised Copyright Act does provide wriggle and wiggle room for educators’ and students’ use. But the basic notion of copyright as locking down rights still applies. It is only the exemptions that allow wide use. The Library has compiled a handy Subject Guide with the most common questions and concerns.


An alternative is Creative Commons or Copyleft. It turns Copyright on its head. The creator chooses who and how his/her creations are used. Take three minutes to watch the Creative Commons take on information and creations:

Flickr may be the first, famous example of Creative Commons initiatives, but CC is gaining an impressive foothold and following. It stems from the open source software | free software movement and the work of Richard Stallman and his GNU Project. When speaking in terms of free, the quote from GNU is often used, “think free speech, not free beer”. (I also add this to keep Crib Sheet 2 aligned with Crib Sheet 1’s reference to gin and tonic!)

Creative Commons is coming into its own in education. OER (Open Education Resources) abound. From edX and Coursera to TEDTalks and iTunesU, examples of high quality resources shared by reputable institutions are becoming common. The Library@Mohawk’s own catalogue went open source, adopting Evergreen and its open source principles rather than pay dearly for a provider.

Consider accepting the challenge to design, develop, and deliver college courses using Creative Commons resources.

Reasonings and rationales for exploring Creative Commons

  1. Student focus: Ever-increasing cost of education for students
  2. Community of Practice focus: Support growing of a body of knowledge rather than licensees’ and publishers’ pocketbooks
  3. Context, not content, is king and it is the curation and facilitation of provided data and information that grows it into knowledge and wisdom
  4. Information wants to be free and has a habit of leaking and seeping to make it so - If you are not convinced, talk to a Librarian
  5. You focus: Avoid the decisions and questions around the Copyright Act and subsequent issues with printing and/or production

Connect with your Access Librarian, Cynthia Williamson, to chat copyright and/or Peggy French to talk copyleft.

Add comment March 22nd, 2013

Emerging EdTech’s Free 2013 Edition of the Education Technology Resources eBook - Get Your Copy Today.

Emerging EdTech’s Free  2013 Edition of the Education Technology Resources eBook - Get Your Copy Today.

I downloaded my free copy of the Education Technology Resource Book and was quite impressed with the way it was organized and the links to areas I wanted to investigate further, like the free educational game sites in Chapter 4.  It helped me to explore specific tools that might be suitable to enhance learning in this digital society.   

To give you an overview the chapters are listed below, but you really need to click on the link and have a look at the tools and resources to determine how teaching and learning might be enhanced by various technologies. 

The 2013 Edition of the Free Education Technology Resources eBook -…

Chapter 1 – Blogs and Blog Resources

Chapter 2 – (More) Cloud Aps

Chapter 3 – Brainstorming and Collaboration Tools

Chapter 4 – Educational Games and Gamification

Chapter 5 – Educational Videos, Lectures , Podcasts and More

Chapter 6 – (More) Flipped Classroom Resources

Chapter 7 – iPads in Education

Chapter 8 – Online Interactive White Boards

Chapter 9 - MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)

Chapter 10 – Picture and Imaging and Editing Applications

Chapter 11 – Presentations and Screencasting

Chapter 12  - Popular Social Networking Applications and Social Learning

Chapter 13 – Teaching with Cellphones and Smartphones

Chapter 14 – Surveys & Polls

Chapter 15 – Other Topics &  Resources


Add comment March 14th, 2013

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