Thursday, March 29, 2012

Seven Tips for a Positive Online Learning Experience

By Errol Craig Sull
Here are a few tips to ensure your students have a positive online learning experience.

  • Personal introductions. By using the personal introductions of students, an instructor can get to know his/her students better, thus allowing interaction with individual students in a more personal manner. When students see that the instructor is reaching out to them on a personal basis, it helps establish a rapport and put the student at ease.
  • Constant presence in the classroom. When students see that the instructor is very active and visible in the class—in discussion, in class postings, etc.—it reassures them that instructor is real, is interested in the class, and is there for individual students. This will have a big impact on student success because they know the instructor is around for questions and concerns AND it gives them a more positive feeling about being in the class.
  • Timely response to all student postings and assignments. First, responding in a timely manner will keep students from having hold assignments until they get clarification from the instructor. It is also crucial that the instructor give thorough and immediate feedback on all assignments so students learn how to improve and can go on to the next assignment in a timely manner.
  • Be clear in all “housekeeping” aspects. Grading criteria, all contact information, policy on late submissions, “netiquette,” and other such items need be clearly defined so there is a minimum of confusion later on in the class. As I have taught more classes over the years, I have compiled an extended list of these based on student queries; posting them early in the class cuts down on student confusion and student emails asking about these items—a big time-saver for both student the instructor.
  • Give assignment feedback that is positive and that helps the student improve. Students must have feedback on assignments that lets them know how they are doing in the class (i.e., their grade), what they need do to improve, and what they are doing right. I give individual item feedback that is made up of three parts: what is wrong, why it is wrong, and how it can be made right; I also will give positive feedback for individual points that are outstanding; and I always include an overall positive comment at the end of the assignment.
  • Share tips, ideas, information, and personal perspectives to make the students feel more comfortable. All of these have one goal: to give additional understanding of the subject being discussed, written about, etc. Personal perspectives are especially helpful, including those of the students: it puts the subject matter in a “real life” context, it gets more students actively and enthusiastically involved in class, and creates a stronger rapport between the students and the online instructor.
  • Above all, be enthusiastic, friendly, and motivated. While the previous items are crucial, they really will amount to little if each is not infused with megadoses of sincere enthusiasm, friendliness, and motivation from the facilitator.

Errol Craig Sull has been teaching online courses for more than 15 years and has a national reputation in the subject, both writing and conducting workshops on it. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his next bookHow to Become the Perfect Online Instructor.

Excerpted from “Teaching Online With Errol: Ensuring Student Success for a Positive Online Learning Experience”

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Graduate Student Develops App to Help Blind Students Learn!

Graduate Student Develops App to Help Blind Students Learn!

Engineering graduate student Jenna Gorlewicz,(Vanderbilt University, Nashville) has created an Android app that uses haptic technology to help high school students with low vision feel math shapes on a tablet devise. Haptic has Greek origins "haptesthai," meaning to touch. As an innovation, haptics equates the science and physiology of the sense of touch into virtual reality. Scientists have studied haptics for decades and much is known about how we incorporate the sense of touch through skin receptors and make sense of it in the brain. Computer scientists have been working diligently to advance this new field for gamming and for educational purposes.

Haptic technology provides touch feedback through motion such as vibrations and is widely used in gaming. In fact, it is the means behind the Android game Teeter which causes the hand-held device to vibrate in your hands when you play golf. Other games also vibrate or move the handheld devise when you are simulating driving across a bumpy terrain. The application is endless.

Gorlewicz’s project was funded by the National Science Foundation and she used her programming skills to cause the tablet to vibrate or generate a specific tone when a student touched a line, curve, or shape on the screen. Inherent in the program, are different vibration frequencies and hundreds of different sounds to specify different features of a shape. For example, Gorlewicz can set the X-Y axis to different frequencies and points to emit tones which would allow students the ability to differentiate between gridlines and points on a grid.

Other researchers have used haptic technology to simulate the springiness of a kidney under forceps in medical school, the push of an individual carbon nanotube in an atomic force microscope and the texture of clothing for sale on the Internet. Under development for instructional purposes and online teaching will be simulated surgery. Similar to how pilots train in flight simulators, would-be surgeons will be able to practice their first incisions without actually cutting anyone. There was also much talk and speculation that the iPad 3 would have haptic technology, but I have not seen evidence of this in any review or the Apple specs. To learn more, about Ms. Gorlewicz’s project click on the link below or search haptic technology.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Blogs or Discussion Boards?

Repost by By Rob Kelly

Blogs and discussion boards both provide opportunities for interaction in online courses, but there are instances when one is  more appropriate than the other, says Matt Crosslin, instructional designer

at the University of Texas at Arlington’s Center for Distance Education. Blogs are typically organized in reverse-chronological order and focus on the most recent input, whereas discussion boards focus on the

feedback to an initial prompt. Blog entries are typically longer than discussion board prompts and can include multimedia. These blog entries are excellent places to complement the content in the rest of the

course by providing current information on a topic culled from the Web. “When you’ve got five, six, or ten paragraphs of initial stuff to comment on versus one question, it does give the students a lot more to base their response on,” Crosslin says.

Often the prompt for commenting on blogs is simply a comment button. With discussion boards, since there is usually just a short introduction, the prompts tend to be more specific. “A discussion board can have a broader range of questions, more than just ‘what are your comments?’” Crosslin   says.

Pros and cons of blogs

As with all tools, there are positive and negative aspects; according to Crosslin, blogs have the following pros:

• Blogs generally have an interface that is intuitive to use.

• Blogs present content in reverse chronological order, which makes it easy to follow.

• Blogs enable instructors to add current content to their courses.

• Blog platforms have tools that enable live chat and the viewing of content by date or topic.


Crosslin cites the following cons:

• Most course management systems do not feature blogs, and so blogs are often hosted by external websites, which brings up the issue of support and ownership.

• One downside of keeping one’s course up to date is that there are fewer opportunities to proofread this content before posting it.

Advice for using blogs

Crosslin offers the following advice for those considering using blogs in their online courses:

• Use blogs for a specific pedagogical purpose.

• Don’t duplicate content from the main part of the course.

• Provide a rubric to help students know what is expected of them.

• If possible, host the blog within the course management system so you won’t have to depend on an external host.

Uses for discussion boards

Discussion boards will continue to have a place in the online classroom, Crosslin says. “Some instructors just want the questions up there and the student responses. That’s their focus.

I still think there’s a great use for discussion boards, especially for feedback forums, to ask questions. If you don’t have a news or announcement function, a discussion board

can be a great place to put news and announcements, and students can ask questions if they need clarification.”

Thursday, March 15, 2012

New brain research is unlocking many mysteries

This Blog is a repost, see source below for direct link.

“How the Brain Learns” By: Donald J. Ford, Ph.D., C.P.T.  


Some of the latest neuroscience research is literally opening up the brain to greater understanding of how one learns which transcends into instructional and pedagogical best practices.

Some of this new research has important implications for learning, especially regarding how we acquire new knowledge, store it and retrieve it. Understanding neurons and the elaborate network of fiber pathways within the cerebrum unlocks the obscurity around deep learning.




Neuroscientists have long assumed that repetitive actions build memory at the cellular level as neuron connections are strengthened. New research out of the University of California (Irvine) have found the very evidence to prove that this assumption in true. Scientists have isolated and observed the brain while a learner is learning a new task. What they have found is that when two neurons frequently interact they couple together and bond in a way that allows this action when repeated to occur more easily. On the flip side, if neurons interact infrequently, the transmission is faulty and does not bond in a way that would produce a cellular and enzymatic memory.

Another study that includes Harvard Medical School found that the structural core of the brain pieces bits of information together to stitch a complete image that becomes our memory. This is important because what they found is that this collation of data points is strengthened when sensory input includes more than one sense. For example, if we see and smell something, our memory of it will be stronger than if we only see it. As such, we will be more likely to remember it in greater detail. Add this to the understanding of repetitive frequency and we start to see how deep memories are made within the brain. Scientists call this fluency – the more we rehearse something or couple it with more sensory points, the easier it is for the brain to remember it and transmit these experiences efficiently deep within the brain for easy and ready retrieval.

In another recent discovery, scholars at the University of Michigan confirmed that the brain is selective in how it processes sensory information. Our brains pay special attention to new or novel information. It makes comparisons between information stored in the brain (long-term memory) and the new information. It performs a matching sequence of sorts and will eliminate redundancies. The brain will also struggle to make sense of contradictions or discrepancies and will lay-down new memories. When and if these new memories are retrieved frequently, stronger pathways are established and deeper memories are built.

In the realm of teaching and learning, this research brings new light into tapping into the emotional side of the brain, building upon our senses, using repetitive actions (such as simple quizzes and tests), engaging  students in games and group activities which involve emotions. How do recent neuroscience discoveries translate into teaching? Take a look at the table below.


Table 1: Learning Implications of Brain Science

Recent Brain Research Finding

Implications for Learning

Frequency and recency of neuron synapses increase memory

Increase frequency through practice and maintain fluency through use

Emotions strengthen memory

Appeal to and engage emotions while learning

Learning causes changes to the physical structure of the brain

Engaging in learning increases our ability to learn throughout our lives

Memories are stored in multiple parts of the brain

Engage all senses when learning

Our brains are programmed to focus on new and unusual inputs

Learning should tap into the brain’s natural curiosity and intrinsic motivation



Monday, March 12, 2012

It’s all about Numbers today!

Do the Math

Do the Math is a video resource created by staff members at the University of Arizona's Center for Recruitment & Retention of Mathematics Teachers (CRR). Do the Math is a weekly cable television show that features mathematics teachers explaining key mathematical concepts. Currently, there are 18 videos on Youtube. Visitors will find 18 video segments that last between 26 and 38 minutes. Some of the subjects covered include geometry, advanced algebra, and calculus.

Visitors may be interested in the materials on the left-hand side of the page, such as an AP Calculus practice exam, information about the related academic programs offered at the University of Arizona, and more. To learn more go to web page associated with this effort at the University of Arizona <> or check out the Youtube videos for yourself.



To find additional high-quality online resources in math and science, visit AMSER: the Applied Math and Science Educational Repository at AMSER is a portal of free educational resources and services built specifically for use by those in Community and Technical Colleges. AMSER is funded by the National Science Foundation as part of the National Science Digital Library, and is being created by a team of project partners led by Internet Scout. is a repository for academics. is a place to share research, monitor deep analytics around the impact of focused research, and track the research of academics one may wish to follow."  Currently, over one million academics have signed up, and there are over 1.2 million papers available at the online repository. The portal is free, but you must create an account and sign up. Registered members can share their professional work, follow other academics, and look up analytical statistics on various works in the database. This site is compatible with all operating systems.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

GoogleDoc Not Your Thing but You Like the Intent? Well Here is one alternative!

TypeWith.Me is an online document collaboration space similar to GoogleDocs as it also works in real time. It is free, simple to use and does not require any registration. It is a great tool for faculty when collaborating on grants or other projects. However, faculty may also utilize it in their classes with students.

A Few Examples of ways students can use

1. Students that are paired in groups can work on a single document with each one adding and editing content.

2. Faculty can also assign roles to various students such as checking for grammar or citations and group members can add their contributions to one space.

3. Faculty can create a neutral piece of writing for students to work on it online, they can add explanations and embed in the document.

4. Faculty can use it with students to get the whole class to participate and contribute perspectives on a subject pertaining to the subject of the course.

As you see there are several basic uses of this technology. So Let’s Cover the Basics of How to Get Started


You may also view this video tutorial to learn how to use this tool.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Custom Text-book Authoring In A Digital World

Custom publishing has never been so easy and innovative. Several companies have recently released free self-authoring software and professional publication tools that facilitate the construction of academic and trade e-books. Three products offer promise: Apple has a new product called iBooks Author; another free and open-source product is called Booktype, while a third publishing solution is called Inkling Habitat.

iBooks Author is an App that allows authors to create multi-touch dynamic e-books in short order. Building a book on the Apple App is simplistic due to pre-built templates, drop and drag features, text wrap, and the ability to drop in Word documents. I recently spoke with a professor who published a textbook in two hours flat and is looking to earn 70% off the sale from each book sold.

The iBooks Author tool allows writers the ability to add text, shapes, charts, tables, and multi-touch widgets anywhere on the page with a single click. Since it is an Apple product, it requires an Apple reading devise such as the iPad.

iBooks image

Booktype was recently developed by Sourcefabric and is a collaborative publishing tool. The authoring application is designed to support teams of authors working concurrently on the same manuscript. Booktype makes it easier for groups of authors to collate, organize and edit manuscripts during the pre-publication period.

Booktype was designed to organize large volumes of content. It allows authors the ability to import text, drop, drag, and import additional content and make appropriate attributions. It also has social tools to link to web 2.0 applications. Booktype would make publishing a book from years of lecture and research notes quite easy. In fact, it would facilitate a rich collaboration among colleagues from other campuses whereby making it easy to pull together large amounts of content into a single publication. As for publishing - Booktype relies on CSS, JavaScript and WebKit; therefore, everything can be done in the browser.

Inkling Habitat is a scalable publishing environment for interactive content that is cloud-based and for professional publishers. The cool factor is that Inkling Habitat lets publishers create interactive e-books with HD video, interactive features and 3D content in a free, cloud-based program. Moreover, the cloud-based approach allows authors, editors, and artists the ability to collaborate on textbooks simultaneously from anywhere. While new to market, the brains behind this application come from Matt MacInnis, a former Apple educational marketing manager. As mocoNews notes the iPad was the initial target platform for Inkling although it has since added HTML5-based web publishing. As such the books may be read on any device with a browser.

In sum, self-publishing dynamic, interactive e-books has never been so easy or quick!

For more information see: