I’m very excited to be attending the 14th Annual Sloan-C International Conference on Online Learning in Orlando from November 5-7, 2008. I have been honored with the request to participate in the pre-conference workshop on November 5th titled “Ask the Experts.” This will be a panel event with presentations from last year’s awards winners. My presentation will be 15-minutes in length.

I have been having a tough time framing my presentation. I want the presentation to be dynamic and convey a clear essence of what makes my online classes unique and worthy of last year’s Excellence in Online Teaching Award. So, it occurred to me that I should pause and “ask the experts” directly. So, yesterday I sent out an email to all 105 of my current online students, the true experts, asking them to kindly reply with a brief description of what makes my class special or unique from other online classes. It’s always interesting to ask for open-ended feedback from students like this. I learn so much.

So far I’ve received many responses. Common favorite aspects of my classes include VoiceThreads because “they make me feel like I’m really in a classroom” and for the web cam introductions and feedback I provide for my students. Seeing me speak to them promotes my presence in their learning experience which encourages them to participate and stay connected. Others note the benefits of hearing my voice through my audio announcements and podcasts. Students also appreciate having the option to read my lectures or listen to them or do both: “I can read and listen (which helps me learn the best).”

Ning is also a big hit this semester. I have created a Ning community for my Art Appreciation students to interact in (with required blog posts). One student shared, “the whole Ning approach is really fun and a good way of getting us to interact moreso than with any of my other 5 online classes I’ve taken/am taking. It makes the class feel more together, not as detached, yet a fun way of doing assignments opposed to discussion boards or just homework assignments.” Also, “Ning has really helped me grasp the other students personalities.” Ning seems to be a natural community builder and, personally, I love that it’s closed to just those students who I invite. Much more secure than using Blogger, as I previously did for my students’ blogs.

Much of this feedback is common to the results of recent surveys I have deployed and hearing the feedback is so important because it reassures me that I’m on the right track. But my reason for sharing this is because many students have also simply commented on some things that can’t be conveyed through technology. Here are a few excerpts:

  • “You care very much about the subject and your students and learning. You like to teach and share the knowledge.”
  • “You teach in a way that makes us think, that makes us view our environment differently and therefore also think about things differently.”
  • “The online tests are easy to understand how they work and is on materials we study…not trick questions.”
  • “You explain things clearly and thoroughly. Your assignments are consistent and easy to follow. Your interaction is top notch…”
  • “…[I]t is your personal touch and enthusiasm that make the class so engaging and thus, effective.”

Students’ perceptions and overall impressions about their experiences are so important for instructor tap into. They’ve given me a fresh perspective on my class and I look forward to using their insights to frame my presentation.

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