I am passionate believer that humanizing our online classes is a severely under explored use of emerging technologies in higher education.

Why is it important to humanize online classes with emerging technologies?

  • Achieving deep learning in an online learning environment requires more than cognition.
  • Achieving deep learning demands the full engagement of the affective domain.
  • The affective domain involves the interplay of learning and emotions.
  • Emotions are engaged through the use of video (tone, gesture, the human presence) and images (visual metaphors).

Smore for humanizing online learning.

Smore is touted as a visual flyer creator and it is a fabulous tool for that particular objective. But I see many other possibilities for this tool in education.  With a free account, a user can select from a small but ample collection of themes and background images and add a variety of “blocks” to the flyer page.  These block options include text that can be formatted and hyperlinked (but you can’t customize it with html); simple links; online videos from YouTube, Vimeo, or Viddler; a picture; bio; audio file; event link; and more! Adding blocks is simple and they can be clicked and dragged into new locations with no issues.  The interface is fluid and a refreshing change from trying to work with templates built into MS Word or Pages (which I treasure for multiple page flyer/document creation).

The “flyers” you create with Smore cannot be multiple pages. This rules out creating visual syllabi (hint, hint Smore developers — big opportunity here for education!).  They can be shared with a link, embedded on a website (as I have done below) and they can also be printed, creating a lovely transition between the digital and text-based world of teaching.  Even more wonderful is the fact that the flyers render nicely on mobile devices. I tested my flyer on my iPhone and it rendered well; the video played great too! Social media sharing is integrated nicely with Smore and analytics are even provided (your flyer must receive 30 visitors or views to unlock your analytics, a nice incentive for sharing, I think!).

There is a special discounted premium account option for educators — hooray for Smore! For $59/year the educator account allows your flyers to be set to private by default (all content with a free account goes to public as a default but you can change it to private).  I am not sure yet what “private” means exactly.  For example, if my flyer is “private” does that mean only I can see it (this is what “private” means in YouTube).  Or is Smore’s definition of “private” the equivalent of YouTube’s “unlisted,” which means anyone with the link has access to it?  These nuances are confusing but important to understand. Wouldn’t it be nice is if all social tools used the same sharing lingo? Also included with the educator account are additional background images (it would be nice to preview these), full access to flyer analytics (no ‘view’ requirement), and the option to remove Smore logos from your flyer.

Humanizing online class schedules with Smore.

OK, now that you know how Smore works, here’s how I would encourage online instructors to use it if I had a magic wand. I want my students to be able to peer inside my class simply and easily (without the barriers of an LMS) to understand if the learning environment I have designed in my class is one that will fit their needs.  I know my class is different. Some students love this. They find it refreshing. Others feel surprised, yet rise to the challenge and learn a great deal about themselves, as well as about the history of photography. These are the most meaningful experiences. Some students decide they want an online class that is just like their other classes.  They want comfort. They want discussion forums and multiple choice quizzes. They don’t want to be challenged to try new things.  These students end up dropping the class, creating inefficiencies in the enrollment process.

This is a problem that has happened for decades. I dropped classes in college I didn’t like the first week of college…and I bet you did too. Today, the issue is more severe as classes are harder to “get” as budget cuts have slashed course offerings.  I WANT my students to know me. I want my students to experience a taste of my class. I want them to have a chance to hear what my past students have shared about the class too.  What if they could see this before the clicked “register”?

I created this with Smore in about 45 minutes. Most of this time was spent writing my original text content and deciding on my background image and theme. 🙂  The welcome video was already made (created with my free Educator account from Animoto and exported into my free YouTube account, allowing me to simply plug the URL into Smore), the Wisdom Wall is a link to a VoiceThread that I give my students to option to leave a comment on at the end of each class (no points are given, it is entirely voluntary), and the was linked from a PDF I have uploaded on my free box.net account.  My students use VoiceThread throughout the entire class (yep, they learn out loud and it does make a difference in how they learn and how they relate to me and each other) and I pasted the course description from my college class schedule and wrote the “What to expect” section on the fly.

Imagine, just imagine if these “humanized class descriptions” could be linked into a college or university’s online class schedules for students to explore before the register for classes.  How would this shift the student experience? 
I plan to share this link with my students at the end of the term so they can send it to the peers who might be interested in taking the class next semester. Thanks Smore for creating a fabulous, much needed tool for education!!

How will you use Smore?

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