Monday, May 1, 2017

Short Video Walk-Throughs Help Your Students

Each semester, we face the challenge of getting our students properly registered with their login credentials for their learning management system, adaptive quizzing platforms, course software or websites, and online textbook resources.

I think that most of us provide detailed instructions in our syllabi, on a course website or (even better) a no-password public web page. But despite our best efforts at providing fool-proof instructions, there always seems to be a large group of students who just can't seem to get off on the right foot and hit one or another snags in trying to get logged into everything and squared away.

I've found that supplementing your written instructions with a personalized video walk-through of all the steps necessary works wonders.  By simply going through each step as a I describe it out loud while it's all being captured by video capture software, students can see exactly which buttons to click, which forms to fill (and what data to fill in), and can be warned off of possible pitfalls during the registration procedure.

I usually sign up using an email I set up using the name of my pet fish, Clyde.  But sometimes that doesn't work if I need a purchased product code or need an official student email address or other credential.  In those cases, you can sometimes get a trial product code or fake student credential from the powers in charge of those things.  For example, at one college we had one fake student in the system—which allowed us to test our courses.

There are many free plugins out there that allow you capture your voice and your browser activity in real time as a video clip.  Here are a few that I've used:
By taking just a few minutes to walk (and talk) through the process while the browser screen is being captured, you can reduce student anxiety and give them a more positive "first impression" of your course. An added benefit is that you'll spend less time answering panicked calls and emails from frustrated students—giving you more time to prepare those brilliant class activities!

Here's a sample of a screencast in which I show my students how to get started with an online anatomy program that comes with their textbook. Notice that I start with a photo that's open in a viewer window that is in front of (overlaying) the browser window. After the introductory discussion, I close the photo viewer, revealing the browser, where I walk the student through the registration process.

Top photo: Raven3k
Bottome photo: theveravee

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Checklists For Online & Blended Course Rollovers

When it's time to roll the course in your LMS (learning management system) over to a new semester, do you just wing it?

Yeah, I've made that mistake. I always think that...

  1. I'm going to remember all the steps to copy my course contents from a prior course over to a course and 
  2. I'm going to remember to make all the tweaks needed within the new course.

I always missed something, though. And that something (or somethings) always messed with my students. Maybe my "this course is now over" message was broadcast halfway through the course. Oops. Or an online test closed before the course even started. Or something weird that unnecessarily confused or startled or panicked my students.

Rarely happens now, though. That's because I have a checklist. First, I find my "master" checklist template. Each time I roll over a course, I print out (or digitally copy) the master to make a new checklist marked with that course and semester. This helps me make sure that I don't miss something. Especially if I have to break the rolling-over process into several sessions.

Sometimes, I make the semester-specific list part-way through the previous semester. For example, I may want to add or delete a learning activity next time around. That goes on the list for next semester. I may want to change a link to a different resource in future courses—and that, too, goes on the list. There may be an upcoming change in school procedures, the textbook edition, some new thing I want to try, or who knows what, and I don't want to forget that when I'm doing my rollover processing.

Sometimes I update my master list template when I find some other aspect of the course that should always be checked after importing a prior course into a new course shell. Thus, my list becomes more and more effective over time.

Here are examples of thing that go on my list:
  • Specific steps to take, and the correct order of steps to export from the prior course and import to the new course. I include which options should be checked and which should remain unchecked. 

  • Change dates to the later dates of the new semester. Depending on your LMS, this may be a matter of telling your system to do that conversion automatically.

  • Check the dates to make sure they really are correct. I've never had the auto-dating feature of an LMS get all the dates exactly right. Their algorithms just aren't that sophisticated. But mostly, the problem is that your school's academic calendar is rarely identical, day-by-day, from one semester to the next.

  • Check the dates in specific areas. If I remember to change my online quiz dates, I may forget to change all the dates to release my course announcements. Or if I remember to do that, I may forget to read all the announcements to see if they reference dates that need to be changed.

  • Check hyperlinks to make sure they go where they need to go. For example, I may have an announcement that has an embedded hyperlink to a course file. But that file's URL will have changed because it points to the course files in the old course. This can be a big problem (I speak from experience) if your students are accessing files from old courses. Various LMSs handle such files differently, but it never hurts to check all links.

  • Make sure I've set up all my external resources. If I link to a publisher's learning platform or to any other external resource, I make sure that any setting up I have to do there is done. For example, I may have to set up a new "course" in my adaptive learning platform. Or create a new blank set in a wiki that I want my students to build. 

  • Copy course files. I have a folder for each new term on my hard drive. Each semester, I copy over the folder (all the contents) and give it a new name that identifies the new semester. Then I go in and delete all semester-specific files, such as gradebook backups, assignments I've downloaded, correspondence with students, etc. Then if I have updates to make to course documents (syllabus, handouts, etc.) I still have copies of all the documents of all past semesters.
The checklists make me happy for several reasons. I love, love, love checking tasks off a list. It is reassuring to see visible evidence of all the work I've done and that I really am ready for a new semester. And I can sleep better (like that's ever a problem) knowing that I've done everything possible to avoid glitches that have happened in past courses.

Art: AJC1 (top)
bredmaker (bottom)