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Uses of Lecture
CAMPUS TECHNOLOGY | November 2013
originally planned. The popularity of scheduled, real-time chats
surprised Mare, given the makeup of the Vietnamese student
body. "They were all workers; they all had full-time jobs and
had families," she says. "Sometimes, we'd talk about family
issues or school issues---anything that they wanted to talk
about. By the end of the chat, they were just talking about their
lives, and it was a really interesting learning experience."
But simply giving students access to discussion boards
is not necessarily enough to engage online students.
According to Blaschke, instructors must ensure that com-
munication is truly substantive. "The important thing is that
students shouldn't just respond to the discussion question,"
she says, noting that UMUC recently switched from its own
proprietary LMS to Desire2Learn, which offers discussion
boards. "We really want them to develop dialogue. As an
instructor, you need to be involved in the classroom enough
so that you're intervening when a student is basically post-
ing a mini-essay. You have to divert them away from just
posting what they've got in their head to critically thinking
about what other people have written and building on it."
While discussion boards have become much better over
the years, Borden believes there is much more room for
improvement in the adoption of social tools such as blogs
and wikis to foster connectivity. And much of that improve-
ment is dependent on faculty, some of whom have been
slow to see the benefits of social media. "I think they don't
see the value," says Borden. "They have a hard time seeing
why Twitter matters when they don't use Twitter. The teach-
ers don't see how to use it because they don't use it in their
lives, and there's a disconnect."
Griffy-Brown agrees with Borden's assessment, noting that
her business school is conducting several programs to show
faculty the potential of social tools. For example, the Blended
Learning Faculty Fellows Program encourages faculty to
experiment with existing social tools, such as the school's
Yammer platform. The private social network, which enables
users to form groups, exchange information, and share files,
also boasts analytics that allow professors to uncover com-
munication bottlenecks, trends, and issues. According to
Griffy-Brown, it's the online equivalent of observing students
interacting on a project in a classroom. "You can track the
same thing in a social network, and you can do it much more
easily than in a linear LMS discussion group," she explains.
"You can look for viral trends. I want to pique interest in areas
that are of high relevance to that particular class."
3) Be Responsive
Ultimately, all the tools in the world can't foster a sense of
community in a class if the instructor is simply phoning it in.
According to Blaschke, teachers must work hard to create
an environment where students feel comfortable asking
questions. "Empathy plays a big role---understanding where
your students are coming from," she says. For example,
Blaschke keeps a biographical profile of each of her stu-
dents and refers back to it when they post in class "to get
a picture of who they are." Through learning journals, she
also gives students a chance to communicate any difficul-
ties they may be encountering. "It allows me to address their
individual needs in an online environment," she explains.
Frequent and reliable interaction is also vital, as is social
presence, says Griffy-Brown. "Teachers have to respond to
communication very quickly---and prompt others to respond---
to be sure you build trust," she notes. "As the leader of the
team, you have to demonstrate and model that."
While students at the USC School of Social Work may
not run into the same issues as asynchronous distance
learners, Mistrano still takes steps to enhance a feeling of
faculty involvement. Although student essays are submitted
digitally, for example, he prints every one out in hard copy.
"I take my blue pen, write all over them, scan each paper,
and e-mail them back individually," he says. "They see my
actual handwriting. They see where I'm drawing arrows. I do
it to engage them and to show them that I'm interacting with
their work with my own hand. That works fabulously."
Elaine Sanchez Wilson is a freelance writer and policy
research consultant based in Los Angeles.
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