The Secret Sauce: Enabling Virtual Learners by Design. Pt 2

In the second of her blog posts on Enabling Virtual Learners by Design Jennifer Hofmann discusses what she considers to be the ‘Secret Sauce’ of virtual learning, and offers definitions of the key ingredients.

Hofmann considers that the ’secret sauce’ of the virtual classroom comes down to convincing participants to be fully present and engaged. But what are the ingredients of that secret sauce? The three keys she identifies are “Engagement”, “Interaction”, and “Collaboration”.
As these terms are often used interchangeably, she offers clear definitions in an effort to distinguish the three concepts, and create some guidelines as to when they should be applied.

Engagement is defined by Merriam-Webster as emotional involvement or commitment. When a participant is engaged, that participant wants to be involved in the event; he or she wants to hear what you have to say and wants to meet the objectives of the program. Interaction and collaboration are the engagement techniques used to ensure this success.

Interaction is communication between participants, trainers, and technology. The purpose of interaction in a virtual classroom is to keep the program moving, make sure participants are paying attention, and to clarify misunderstandings.
In the virtual classroom, interaction can be accomplished in many ways, including polling, web scavenger hunts, and Q&A sessions.
These types of interactive activities don’t include PRACTICE of a new skill or APPLICATION of new knowledge. They simply confirm KNOWLEDGE.

Collaboration builds on baseline information, and is one of the factors that, in my opinion, moves and event from being a presentation to being true training.
The purpose of collaboration in a virtual classroom is to ensure participants achieve the desired level of content mastery while working with other participants.
Collaboration is exemplified by the PRACTICE of new skills and APPLICATION of knowledge by the participants. We can achieve collaboration in a virtual setting by using breakout rooms, share whiteboards, and facilitated discussions. Generally, collaboration can best be achieved with small groups and supplemental participant materials to support the learning process.

The full post can be found HERE and we will be following the rest of the series over the next few weeks.

Add comment August 18th, 2014

Social Media tool: About.Me

Managing online presence is often a challenge for faculty. Which social media platforms should I use? Who should I “friend” or connect with? How much personal information am I releasing (or is escaping)? Some teachers have a huge online presence on Facebook, Linkedin, twitter etc,, while some are reluctant to even put a basic profile on eLearn.

A useful social media tool for the experienced and novice alike is About.Me. allows you to easily create a one page online “calling card” with photos, biographical information and links to other social media.
My page is here

The benefit of an page is that users are able to create a one-page summary with a large sized photograph about who you are and how to contact you through social media, a website, and email. This provides a simple access point to your online identity that is beautifully displayed on a computer and mobile devices. This free service also allows you to easily measure and track different page metrics, like number of visitors and who views your page.
Setup is fairly quick and easy with Upon arriving at the website, you will first be asked to enter your full name and email address. Once you fill out the necessary information, choose “Create Your Page,” and then get started with customization.

  • Click and drag your biography to a prominent place on the page
  • Edit your page to include a custom background
  • Add and connect your active social networks and fully complete your biography and contact information along with website links

One of the great features is the ability to Explore Pages and connect with other users in your field, you can compliment other users and tweet about their page for social engagement and create lists of connections and people who interest you.

Be sure to thank others who compliment your page.

For experienced social media butterflies, it provides a single portal for visitors to see all your networks and can act as a gateway to an ePortfolio. For the novice it’s easy to create a professional looking stand-alone page that you can share in an email signature or an embedded link.
And did I mention it’s free?
Check it out at

Leslie Marshall

Add comment May 28th, 2014

Making the Most of Professional Development Days

It’s springtime, and college faculty’s naturally turn to thoughts of… PD.
In her Faculty Focus Blog Maryellen Weimer discusses the effectiveness of PD activities and workshops and how we can do better.

The research we looked at then did not give workshops very high marks. If teachers changed, they did so right after the event, but soon reverted to their old ways of doing things
A lot of workshops (mine included) have a kind of revival service feel to them. The faculty who are there care deeply about teaching; those who need to be revived don’t usually show up. So, the audience isn’t all that difficult to convert. If you’ve got an idea they think might be good, especially if it addresses a problem that concerns them, they write it down or key it in, often nodding with gusto and then following up with questions on the details. Give them five or six concrete ideas and they become true believers, whole new teachers who leave the session determined to lead new and better lives in the classroom. But it’s the staying power of workshop experiences that give me pause.

She suggests faculty take time for reflection, to “interrogate their practices” and ask “How?” “What?” and “Why?” questions. For some, that can happen in an organized workshop, but…

there are some of us who just don’t learn very well in those kinds of settings. Give me a quiet space, some good articles, time to write, and a chance to share ideas with my best colleagues—I’ll opt for that almost every time.

So; how ever you want to do it; find some time to think, to question, and to rejuvenate.

Read the full article at:

Leslie Marshall ~ CTL

Add comment May 21st, 2014

It’s NOT about the Technology

A post in the blog by Jennifer Hofman raises an interesting question

With so much content and technology readily available, why don’t people seem to be learning more? And (why) are so many people being forced to learn online at (metaphorical) gunpoint?

Her first point is It’s NOT about the Technology
In the first of a six part series that will examine how to design effective virtual learning environments Hofman outlines five elements critical to learner success.

Although organizations are spending money on technology, they’re rarely investing in resources that create effective learning environments. They’re treating virtual training and blended learning implementations as technology initiatives rather than change initiatives.

We need to find ways to make learners feel that the investment is worthwhile. One way to accomplish this is by ensuring that some critical concepts are contemplated during the design of a program, not as an afterthought once a program has already been implemented.

The five elements are:

  1. Motivation to learn built into the program

  2. Why do we need to be more concerned about motivating online learners than traditional learners? Because often, online learning comes with a stigma that’s totally unmotivating. Learners often feel that they’re being cheated out of an instructor, that online learning isn’t real learning, and that having to learn at their desk is more trouble then it’s worth…

  3. Opportunities to collaborate and interact.

  4. How can virtual training and blended learning be collaborative? You can create collaboration by finding ways to bring learners together in some kind of social interaction or get groups to work together to solve problems…

  5. A blend of delivery methods designed to maximize the learning outcome

  6. When it comes to designing training, one size does NOT fit all. In other words, we can’t rely on just one technology to provide total treatment for a learning program…

  7. A physical environment conducive to learning.

  8. Critical to a learner’s success is a physical learning environment that includes usable technology, accessible support, and an area conducive to full participation during live lessons, as well as concentration/focus during self-directed activities.The proper implementation and management of technology is critical to the success of all learning initiatives…

  9. Facilitators and managers that believe in and support the blended learning experience

  10. Adoption of educational technologies isn’t just new to our learner audience, it is often a new experience for the people facilitating the process…

The full blog post can be found HERE and the CTL blog will be following this thought-provoking series as it appears.

Leslie Marshall - Centre for Teaching & Learning

Add comment April 29th, 2014

How Tech is Changing Colleges :Infographic

An interesting infographic from Mashable and Presta Electronics shows the prevalence of technology on US colleges.

Main points are:

  • More than 90% use email to communicate with professors and 73% say they cannot study without technology.
  • Seven in 10 take notes on keyboards instead of paper, virtually all students who own an ereader read textbooks on it and most use digital tools when preparing a presentation.
  • Community college students are less digitally connected than students at four-year schools, but more and more people are making the Internet their education gateway.
  • Twelve million students take at least one class online today — in five years, that number is projected to exceed 22 million. By 2014, analysts say, more than 3.5 million students will take all of their classes online.
  • In 2009 students in the US spent $13 Billion on technology.

You Can view the infrographic HERE
Leslie Marshall CTL

Add comment April 11th, 2014

Learning Portfolios Day: McMaster University

Members of your ePortfolio teams were lucky enough to attend McMaster’s day-long exploration of its Learning Portfolio initiative. There were many interesting aspects – a panel of faculty, spotlight on how it used out of the Student Success office, panel of employers, and a student showcase. I think capturing the experiences will take two posts. For this first one, I will concentrate on connections to Mohawk’s ePortfolio project from the keynote speaker, Dr. Randy Bass, an impressive educator and scholar from Georgetown University. I will lay out a few of his interesting statements and pose some questions. Let’s start a conversation around his spotlights by using the “Comments” section.

New division of labor: How computers are creating the next job market posits that there will be three kinds of work in the future:

1. solving unstructured problems
2. working with new information
3. carrying out non-routine, manual tasks

Meeting current vocational standards likely prepares students for the third type of work. However, to meet the first two kinds of work will require the skills better aligned to our Institutional Learning Outcomes. Do you agree that the ILOs appear to be a better embodiment of attributes and skills required to meet the unknown careers of the future or are there other initiatives that capture the future better? Perhaps an even better question might pose, what kind of education is required for these conditions?


Dr. Bass also challenged that the real tension in teaching and learning today is not f2f versus online, but integration versus disintegration. Stopping to consider how many companies and people are now in the “learning business” drove this idea. Consider the number of companies promising to improve retention, boost engagement, and solidify satisfaction. Most of them did not exist a few, short years ago; the “learning business” was primarily in the hands of educators.

DISINTEGRATIVE = granular; measurable e.g. outcomes, competencies
INTEGRATIVE = holistic and coherent

Dr. Bass and his like-minded colleagues see definite changes and challenges when the locus of knowledge moves from disintegrative to integrative. The locus moves from skills, abilities, and competencies to those of dispositions and character traits such as empathy, grit | resilience, curiosity, risk taking. What likely jumps out is that these dispositions or character traits cannot be taught as skill can. Instead, opportunities need to be provided that cultivate character and grow these positive dispositions. How do you see this changing  how we educate our students? If this move of the locus of knowledge is more than a positive hypothesis, what things need to happen within our educational structures?

I promise part two post on our eP Day will include information actually on ePortfolios! There was a plethora of wonderful, eP-specific information shared among the panels and participants.

Add comment March 31st, 2014

Education Technology Strategies 2014: Summit in Toronto (March 4th & 5th)

A small, but mighty contingent of Mohawk educators - including support staff, administration, and faculty attended this fourth annual conference. From across the country, contributors to K-12 and post-secondary education met to:

Unlock technology to enrich and personalize learning. Reform your organization as part of a progressive ecosystem to nurture engaged students and catalyze innovation.

At this unique forum, obtain strategic insights from education leaders on how to improve student achievements with meaningful use of technology. Acquire cost-effective deployment solutions and incorporate sound pedagogical practices into your curriculum design and delivery.

Benefit from first-hand experience to implement blended, mobile, and BYOD initiatives at your institution and classes. Empower educators with practical tools and techniques to prepare your students for the 21st century knowledge economy.

Improve engagement, maximize learning outcomes and increase retention. Capitalize on emerging innovations to make a dramatic difference to the quality of your education. Adapt to the new paradigm and strive for excellence”

~ Source: Conference site

I thought I would start by adding my Glog or interactive poster that can act as a springboard to more conversation and community building. I am hopeful other attendees will add their takeaways and Mohawk’s community will pose questions and comments.

Here’s my GLOG!

Add comment March 10th, 2014

Five ways 21st and 20th Century Learning will Differ

In an article on Inside Higher Ed Steve Mintz identifies 5 ways in which he believes education in the 21st century will be radically different from the 20th century.

  1. A 21st century education will be geared toward 100 percent proficiency.

  2. Education will be come more competence focused. with increasing emphasis of learning outcomes, explicit standards of performance, and aligned assessment.

  3. It will rest on the science of learning.

  4. Our understanding of learning will be driven by discoveries in neuroscience, developmental and cognitive psychology.
    Concepts such as Cognitive Flexibility, Grounded Cognition, Mental Modelling, Narrative Learning and Spaced Learning will deeper our understanding of learning and shape how we teach.

  5. It will be data-driven.

  6. Online courses and courses ‘taught at scale’ will give access to unprecedented data on how learners navigate through course materials and their learning experiences.

    We will learn more than we ever have about the differences between successful and unsuccessful students, and what successful learners do to master a specific skills or concept.

  7. It will be personalized.

  8. Following the trend of marketing, retail and entertainment industries, education will be come more personalized. Not only will learners be able to customize their own learning pathways, but advanced tools will also allow for customized support

    Courses with embedded diagnostics will offer just-in-time remediation and enrichment activities to students, while learning dashboards will allow instructors, coaches, and advisers to intervene with real-time data.

  9. It will take advantage of technology in ways that truly enhance the learning experience.

  10. The narrated Powerpoint with multiple choice quizzes will give way to interactive, collaborative tools that will open up new possibilities for active learning.

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed

Add comment March 7th, 2014

Student Feedback - How am I doing

It’s just after break week, so; if you haven’t already; now might be a good time to collect some fast feedback from the students in your course(s) about how well you are managing their expectations as learners. Click HERE to download a copy of the “Start-Stop-Continue” form. You may want to distribute a copy of this form to your class or post it on your elearning space.

Option 2: during the last 5-10 minutes of a class and ask students to take a piece of blank paper and answer two questions about their learning environment:
1) Which practices most help you to learn? 2) Which practices could be improved? Collect the anonymous papers.

Ideally, you will want to respond to the students’ feedback in the next class. It is helpful for students to hear that they have different perspectives and learning preferences. What one person likes another dislikes. You are attempting to satisfy different learning styles. Do let students know what, if anything will change as a result of the feedback.

Peter Seldin, in Evaluating Faculty Performance, believes gathering data and taking action to address any problems that arise virtually guarantees higher ratings when the formal feedback process takes place.

Add comment March 3rd, 2014

Online Video - Is Shorter Better?

If you are creating online videos or doing lecture capture the following may give you pause.

Philip Guo, an assistant professor of Computer Science at the University of Rochester, recently published preliminary findings on research he is doing for edX, a major MOOC provider.

Guo reports two finding on video usage in online courses.
First: the attention span for a video lecture is shorter than for a face-to-face class; “the optimum video length is 6 minutes or shorter”
Second: while the average viewing time maxes out a 6 minutes, if the video is longer than 12 minutes the average time spent watching goes down.


For a 30-40 minute video, the average viewing time is 3 minutes or 10% or less of the content.

It’s not hard to imagine someone watching an online video for a few minutes and then moving the cursor to the bottom to see where that progress line is. If it’s past half way, they are likely to watch it to the end, if it’s still close to the left edge, they may give up then and there.

Short videos keep students engaged and may also give them an incentive to use short windows of time that might be available; in breaks between classes. for example; to watch when they couldn’t commit to watching a longer video.

As Guo writes “The take-home message for instructors is that, to maximize student engagement, they should work with instructional designers and video producers to break up their lectures into small, bite-sized pieces.”

Add comment February 6th, 2014

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