Distance Learning Training and Resources for Educators

Posts tagged ‘e-learning’

Are we graduating smarter, more prepared students in the digital age?

I recently attended and presented at the NC3ADL Distance Learning Conference.  It was great to see my old friends and colleagues at the Raleigh Convention Center especially since I retired from full time teaching and distance learning administration at Carteret Community College.

Presenting at the NC3ADL Conference

Presenting at the NC3ADL Conference

One thing that struck me while attending one of the conference sessions was just how many amazing and powerful digital tools and applications we as educators have at our disposal for delivering (teaching) our courses compared to 20-30 years ago. The digital (internet) age has changed (impacted) education at all levels dramatically.

The question I have is… are we graduating smarter more prepared students because of all these new, powerful and sophisticated instructional tools and applications?  I hate to admit it, however, I would have to say no if I were to base my answer on my personal experiences as an online educator. Students and teachers now have access to endless amounts of information with a click of the mouse, more than any time in human history.  Is this seamless and easy access making us smarter? Is it making us better teachers? Is it making our students smarter and more prepared for viable careers after they graduate? Are all the technological tools, applications, systems, networks and sophisticated software making the educational experience better and more effective than 20-30 years ago? I think this is a conversation we as educators need to be having.

Could the inundation of information and digital tools like cell phones, laptops, tablets and IPads and IPods make us more distracted and possibly overwhelmed to the point where we can’t possibly process the vast amount of data and information coming at us from commercial, political, and educational realms.

Speaking for myself I feel somewhat overwhelmed by the constant flow of digital content coming at me from morning to night. I teach exclusively online and incorporate a wide array of instructional material into my online classes. Everything from podcasts, screencasts, instructional videos, graphics, animations, and text based content.  Teaching and learning in 2013 is so incredibly different than it was back in the 1950’s, 60’s and even into the 80’s before the computer and the internet.

Students now have the same access to information their instructors have. Is it now the teachers role to help students decipher this information, make sense of it and put it into context?  The roles and relationships between teachers and students is certainly changing (evolving) and have been for the past 15 years.

I personally think there are a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to the state of education in America. We certainly spend more than any other country on schools, colleges and education in general.  I’m just not convinced we are getting the best bang for our buck and I wonder if we could be doing a better job with the incredibly powerful instructional tools and applications we have at our disposal as educators in the digital realm.

Could it possibly be that the technology could possibly be getting in the way and/or inhibiting the process of learning?  I see many students struggling to stay focused on one learning activity  (task) because he/she is distracted by checking facebook, texting or surfing the internet. There may be more to this than we as educators think and we may have to come up with new and creative strategies for dealing with and addressing these issues.    Just sayin…..

Here is the world education ranking for 2012. USA dropped to 17th in developed countries. Finland and South Korea kicked out butts! Can’t we do better than this?

Click Here for Global Report on Education.


Student Thoughts on Distance Learning

Sally Roy recently created a video detailing the pros and cons of online learning. The project profiles real students who have had experiences with online education and features their discussions around the positive and not-so-positive qualities of online and offline education.

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Click Here to View the entire video interviews.

Excerpt from this Project…

“To log in or not to log in? That’s the question for thousands of students like you, who now have options that their parents didn’t have when it comes to obtaining higher education. No longer does a student’s college debate center solely on the old question about state schools versus private education. Online schools have become legitimate sources of knowledge and career training, and students now have another major decision to make when it comes to choosing a school.

As the idea of earning your education online becomes more socially acceptable, more students are choosing to earn their education through online schools every year. It fits easily into busy schedules and can be a life-saver for nontraditional students who have concern like work and parenting. And although traditional college students—that is, students who have just finished high school and are heading to college for the first time—are also enrolling in online schools, many students have questions about the differences between online and offline schools.

Their concerns are not necessarily eased by the swarm of information, facts and figures that are offered by dozens of different online schools. It can be overwhelming to attempt to take in all of this information at once, and it’s easy to lose sight of what your number 1 concern ought to be: is online school the best choice for you?”

Comments are welcome and encouraged…

Strategies for Expanding your e-learning Skills

Harnessing the Tools and Technologies for Online Teaching.



E-Learning is growing at such a rapid pace because it is…..

• Market Driven
• Student Driven
• Technology Driven
• Budget Driven

Education at all levels is changing very rapidly (understatement)

Question we must all ask ourselves…

Do we want to be behind the technological curve or ahead of it?

If we want to stay ahead of this technological wave then we must harness and effectively implement the technology we have at our disposal for delivering and assessing our course content.

1. Master the LMS (Learning Management System)

Moodle / Blackboard / Angel etc.

2. Look at your CMS as your teaching / learning hub.

From your CMS platform you can add a variety of “open source” tools that can enhance / enrich the online learning experience.

3. What other online tools/applications do you want to incorporate into your CMS

Skype, YouTube, ITunes U, Join.me, Twitter, Blogging, Jing, Photobucket, Flickr, Voicethread, to name a few.

4. Develop an online teaching methodology that is a reflection of your personal teaching style and draws from some e-learning best practices. An approach that enables your personality to come through. An approach that lets students know there is a compassionate, engaged, enthusiastic teacher on the other end that sincerely cares about their learning and success. This is the biggest challenge or online educators in my opinion and will take the most time so don’t get frustrated as you are climbing this learning curve.

Lets take a look at a cross section of these online tools and see what each one does best as to instructional delivery.

Each tool/application in the CMS plays a specific role in delivering (and/or assessing) your course content (instruction) and then you add additional tools to broaden and enhance the functionality of your course.

Within the CMS

• Discussion Forums
• Assignment Manager BB / Advanced Uploading of Files Moodle
• Lessons / Create Web Pages/Glossaries
• Test Manager (BB) – Quiz Function Moodle
• Blog / Wiki / external links
• Announcements


Open Source (Outside CMS)

YouTube and Vimeo

Great for embedding tutorials that either you create or find on Youtube into your course. YouTube for lectures under 10-15 minutes and Vimeo for over 15 minutes.
Anything you ever wanted to know about Photoshop for example is in a tutorial on YouTube. You just have to sift through and find and embed the best most viable tutorials for your lesson.


Great for embedding powerpoint slide shows / lessons directly into CMS instead of linking to them for download.

Jing / Screenflow / Camtasia

I use these tools for screencast tutorials. You can record your screen and your voice as you demonstrate a technique in Photoshop or In-Design for example. Jing for quick and dirty and Screenflow for longer presentations. These can be linked or embedded directly into Moodle or Blackboard.

Audacity for Audio Editing Podcasts

Excellent (FREE) audio editing software. Very shallow learning curve to let you create audio podcasts (MP3’s)


Enhanced Podcasts (Illustrated with images / video)

Great for demonstrating “hands’on”  activities like a dissection in Biology or Chemistry Experiments.

IMovie, Movie Maker or Camtasia will allow you to create visually sophisticated enhanced podcasts for your lectures and demonstrations.

Once I create these I will upload to ITunes U, YouTube and/or Vimeo and embed them into my courses. These do not have to be fancy or highly sophisticated productions. I usually have a student keep an eye on my video camera as I demonstrate a basic lighting technique on the sweep for example. After class I put a title on it – edit out any bad spots and then embed it into the Blackboard or Moodle class.

Join.meYuuguu (Screensharing)

Low budget way to share your screen with students for “real-time” synchronous critiques. Just send the students a link and they are viewing your screen. You would use this in conjunction with Skype so you can all have a conversation while discussing a Photoshop technique or critiquing an image.

Skype  (online office hours, conference calls and screensharing)

Google Hangouts! Great for lectures, demonstrations, critique sessions and student meetings or real time lectures.

I find skype and google hangouts bot invaluable for office hours and online meetings. Students seem to be very open to meeting me on skype to discuss a project, look at work or just discuss a school or personal issue.

Twitter for Reminders and Course Updates

We have faculty using Twitter for sending out updates (reminders) to students about various course related projects, due dates, course changes and share short bits of information. All students are asked to create a course twitter account and subscribe to the instructor. I see a lot of possibilities with this tool.

Drop Box

Great for storing images or have students place their work in a central location for you to evaluate and/or critique.

Voice Thread

Another excellent quick and dirty voice with images application that you can embed into a discussion board or anywhere into a CMS.

WordPress Blog for easy web e-portfolios, journeling, travel logs, marketing.

I am a big proponent of blogging for educational purposes and e-portfolio’s.  All my student set-up a portfolio blog the 2nd year of our Photo Program. They set-up pages for each discipline like Portraiture, Sports/ Action, Fine Art, Documentary, Commercial Illustration in addition to posting their artist statements, resume’s etc. Click Here for an example from one of my graduating students. Ira Morris BloG

Rachel Eddins Photo Blog

ITunes U

Excellent and expansive resource for instructional podcasts and video content. You just have to search for topics that relate to your course and download the podcasts and embed them into your course. All ITunes U colleges must sign an agreement that everything they upload to ITunes U is free to anyone who wants to use it in their online courses for edicational purposes. There is a vast array of Photo History Lectures in ITunes U for example. Why reinvent the wheel when someone has already created and made available excellent photo/art media content.

ITunes U Carteret Site

This is the student link to my College ITunes U site. I have over 200 audio and enhanced podcasts in my various photo course tabs. Students can download my podcasts (lectures and demonstrations) to their mobile devices or watch them while sitting at their computer. I do all my exam reviews as podcasts and students download them and listen before taking the exam.

Photobucket and Flickr

Online repositories for storing, sharing and commenting on images. You can have students post a link to their photobucket album or flickr stream to the discussion board and then you can review – post comments and help with editing and sequencing their pictures. Flickr seems to have more functionality for editing and sequencing than photobucket.

IMovie / MovieMaker

IMove for Mac users for making quick enhanced podcasts and instructional videos – Movie Maker is the alternative for PC users as far as being easy to use and enables you to create videos that can be uploaded to YouTube, Vimeo or Itunes U.


Take a PowerPoint and add narrative then save as a mov. or MP4 file

dragonDragon Naturally Speaking

I would imagine this software is going to be invaluable to effective online instruction and a big time saver for those of us who are burned out with typing.

Yammer – Educational Social Network

Check this cool “free” educational social networking tool out. Essentially like a facebook interface for communicating and engaging students and colleagues on a variety of topics. You can embed video and audio into it as well. I use that as a communications tool for all my Distance Learning Faculty at my college for sharing ideas, accomplishments and anything related to distance learning.

YouTube – Thousands of Instructional Videos and Tutorials on just about every subject.

Each one of these online tools and applications can help you deliver and assess your course content and some will enable you to engage your students effectively in the online environment.

The trick is to know WHEN and WHERE and HOW to use them most effectively to accomplish whatever learning objective you are addressing.


You must be aware that these online tools and applications are constantly evolving and changing and you have to retool your courses accordingly.

elearningOnline faculty must accept the reality that there is no standing still in the world of e-learning. We are life long learners and essentially students as well – the online environment has forced us to be facilitators / moderators and guides to the learning journey instead of the sage on the stage.

Those educators who are aware of this reality and ready and willing to navigate the digital / technological terrain will be the most successful, in-demand and marketable.

So You Want to Teach Online………

Anatomy of an Online Course

course image

Being a  educator in the year 2013 is NOT anything like it was in 1987. Not only do we have to know our course content area and be able to teach it effectively. Now we have to be able to teach effectively in a whole new (cyber) environment and be able to weave seamlessly between physically seeing (teaching) our students and communicating (instructing) them totally online.

new skill sets

This takes new sets of skills and a heightened awareness of the challenges the online environment presents us. Harnessing (mastering) this instructional technology and methodology is going to make you more marketable as an educator.

There is no doubt teaching online is a challenge. You must go into it with your eyes WIDE OPEN. The first few years moving your traditional courses over to the online environment takes time and effort climbing the learning curve. There’s no getting away from this reality. The good news is…the more you teach online, the easier it gets. Once you’ve built your online courses and develop a solid grasp on how to manage and teach via the web things get progressively easier.

online teaching

There really are no shortcuts at the very beginning of this process. You have to build your courses and transition yourself and your teaching methodology over to being comfortable, proficient and effective in the online environment.


Essentially you have to totally RE-THINK how you are going to teach because what works in the traditional classroom doesn’t usually work for the online environment.

Step #1 – Gather all the course content (assignments, lectures, videos, web resources, Powerpoints, etc.) you have and begin organizing it by week. If you are teaching a 16 week semester you have to take a good hard look at your syllabus and course outline and then break (pace/distribute) the assignments, projects, assessments and learning outcomes up over a span of 14 weeks. Leave the first week for course familiarization and last week for wrap-up and exam or final projects.

blackboard vs. moodle

Step #2 – You have to become proficient with the course management system (CMS) your college is using before teaching online. That means taking workshops and taking time practicing adding content and learning the various functions and applications within the CMS (Blackboard, Moodle, WordPress, Angel, Campus Cruiser, etc.) Please note…all CMS’s do the same thing! They are online tools for delivering and assessing course content. If you can learn one CMS you can quickly learn another – it is like driving Buick vs. a Honda.

Step #3 – Once you are proficient with the tools and applications in the CMS and get all your course content loaded, organized and designed within a design scheme then you want to have someone look it over to check if the course expectations are communicated clearly. Sometime we know are material so well we just assume we are being clear when in fact we may assume too much. All course expectations, assignments, discussions and assessments must be crystal clear with no grey area.


Step #4 – Introspection, brainstorming and Soul Searching Time! You have to visualize (analyze) each assignment, assessment, project and course expectation then consider how you teach them in the classroom/studio and then problem solve just how you are going to deliver and assess them in the online environment. There is no one size fits all solution to this and your teaching style plays a role in how you go about it.

e-learning vs. classroom

Step #5 – Once your class is completely migrated from classroom to online its time to be baptized in fire and teach online. Best approach would be to start with a hybrid/blended course (partial online) and work your way to totally online. You are going to make mistakes and will learn from them.
Every time you teach online you will get better, more efficient and comfortable working in that environment.  Effective and efficient workfow and file management are also very important variables when teaching online. They can make or break your effectiveness and keep you from losing your mind from being inundated by student assignments, discussions, e-mails and giving viable feedback. Migrating your traditional classroom courses over to online delivery takes a great deal of thought,  rethinking and planning and should not be taken lightly.

The goal for all of us is to replicate as best we can our unique, creative and dynamic approach in the classroom into the online environment.

Google Hangouts…Great new tool for Distance Learning

I am in the process of creating a step by step procedure for incorporating Google Hangouts into your online courses. It is a great new and free tool to help you teach and engage students. If you have any tips or resources for me to add for using Google Hangouts for educational purposes please post them in comments.

Click here to check it out!

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NC3ADL Regional Workshop – ADA Compliance

Creating an Accessible Course – Click Here for All Workshop Powerpoints, Agenda and Materials

Durham Technical College

9:00 – 10:00 – Fundamentals of Accessibility
10:00-11:00 – Designing for Accessibility
11:00 – 12:00 – Selecting Accessible Online Content
12:00 – 12:30 – Lunch
12:30 – 2:30 – Creating Accessible Content with Office 2010
2:30 – 4:00 – Creating Accessible Videos/ Podcasts

I must admit I was pleasantly surprised at how much I learned about ADA compliance during this one day workshop. I walked away with a heightened awareness of what I must do to get my online courses in line with ADA compliance and the information I need to assist my faculty to make their courses compliant as well.  It is not as overwhelming as it may initially seem. In fact many online faculty are already incorporating many of these course design techniques in our classes already.  Much of ADA compliance is just good common sense like using readable fonts for your course content and good contrast when incorporating color.

The following are the notes submitted by our Distance Learning Advisory sub-committee for ADA Compliance from Carteret Community college.

Distance Learning Advisory Committee member for CCC Rick Hill said the following about the workshop.

“I have a better understanding of DL accessibility and its impact on our faculty.  Many of the course requirements are sound educational concepts regardless of section 508 requirements and should be implemented.  Other requirements will be extra work on our faculty, and I am not convinced that it is entirely necessary.  There are times when you can have too much of a good thing, and, requiring so much effort to serve such a small population, is one of those times.   Seated courses are accommodated as needed, but we have to do what have to do.

The tools available to assist faculty with this process such as the WAVE site will help.  I do see our adjunct faculty needing extra help and close supervision for compliance.

Our faculty and support staff are good with disabled students.  It would take something strange for litigation from a student.  Where I see a problem is the College web site.  It should be a prime focus of our accessibility efforts.  I can see someone from the DOE checking our home page for compliance well before they monitor an on-line Psychology course. ”

The following was submitted by Mary Walton our Director of Business and Service Technologies

Section 508 agencies to make electronic and information technology accessible to individuals with disabilities

You can use alternative access only if equivalent access is not feasible. Alternative has to achieve the same learning objectives

• Accessibility guidelines
color contrast, accessible fonts and text formatting, structure and formatting, hyperlinks

• Select basic, simple, easy to read fonts Sans Serif  Examples–Arial, Verdana, Tahoma

• Use limited number of fonts/colors on same page (no more than 3)

• If using varying font styles, limit the use to headings

• Avoid small font sizes

• Limit use of font variations such as bold, italics, and all caps

• Never use color alone to convey information.

www.vischeck.com (will let you see how a file will look for color blind scenarios)

• You can use color for formatting text, but can not refer to color only in directions on how to interpret that text. (ie: instead of saying text in red, use bold and red) Don’t use color alone for emphasis!

• Avoid blinking and animated text and excessive text effects. Can use for decorations, but not for a title, announcement, etc.

• Establish a hierarchy structure for your text content. Use true heading styles, etc for sections

• View the document in Word in Outline view to see if the hierarchy exists. Using styles makes it easy for navigation with a screen reader. Without doing so, the screen reader has to read through the entire document to find content.  Headings allow a student to navigate to what they’re looking for more easily.

• Alternative text descriptions should describe why the image is being used. For example, if it is simply decorative, null or a simple word describing it is fine, but if the image has purpose the description should describe why the image is being used.

• In PowerPoints or Word, etc,  in addition to alt text, you should describe the image and its purpose on the screen under the image.

Hyperlinks. Don’t use Click here for your link. The link should convey where the link is going, why it is provide, and what else happens. (goes to xyz site and opens in new window or same window, etc.)

• Also provide a copy of the URL in case the link does not work, but do NOT make that an active link. Also, don’t have to say link in your description, the screen reader will automatically tell them.

• Any link that goes to an external website should be set to open in a new window.

• File naming conventions. Documents require interpretation by a server, browser or LMS.

The following are the notes I took from the workshop.
Student has to get same content –may not be delivered the same way.

    Color contrast (good contrast)
    Accessible fonts and text formatting
    Structure and formatting
Do not use the textures on BB buttons.

Light background – dark font –vice versa

Font – must be easy to read!
    Don’t use decorative fonts
    Don’t use lots of fonts and colors
    12 point font smallest you want to go.
    Don’t use color alone for emphasis!
    Avoid excessive text effects!

Alternative text-images and alt. text.

• Text description of image. How am I going to use the image?
• Be specific with alternative text.
• If image is complex, long description.  Describe the image and what it means on the page. Still need to put alternative text as well.

Hyper links – How we set those up.
    When using links where and why using link.
    Describe link not just click here and not describe.

File naming conventions – short and sweet
    No more than 32 characters
    No spaces – avoid symbols – lower case letters.
    Make an effort have a plan is key – show good faith on ADA

Designing your course

Strive for Universal Design
    Address Different learning styles
    Online accessibility course is offered by the VLC
    Podcast (Video) Script can be used as transcript for your video. Include this under video

What is Universal Design?
    Representation option for displaying information? Good design meets the learning needs of all students.

• Basically good teaching principles

• Provides options for comprehension

• Multiple means of action and expression.

• Consider how students send you assignments. Have them send you audio files and/or videos and put in YouTube instead of a  research paper.

• Provide options for physical action.

• Give students more options like submitting videos and podcasts instead of text based documents.

• Study guide at end of each module is very helpful and is a universal design technique.

    Consider giving students Audio feedback – audacity- Google voice – messaging system
    Call – leave message send link to Moodle of the voice recording
    Find content that is already accessible. No need to reinvent the wheel. This will save you lots of time.  Do searches in YouTube for closed captioned videos.

Helpful and Informative web sites for ADA Compliance
Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool

Art Beyond Site web site for Blind on Art.
Art Education for Blind
Bringing art and culture to all
Contrast Checker
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG
FireFox Add on

Web Accessibility in mind – web site Color checker

Test web content for accessibility

The next step for the DL Advisory Committee is to create a plan and a time line to move Carteret Community College closer to ADA compliance until we get to full compliance.

Continue the Conversation – Challenges for Faculty…..

This coming Monday and Tuesday I am presenting with Roberto Muffoletto Director of the Vasa Project at the North Carolina Community College Faculty Conference in Raleigh NC.

We had so much to cover in our Challenges for Faculty Presentation I am posting my PowerPoint here and asking those who attended to comment about the presentation and/or add to the list of challenges we face or post any solutions you may have to the ones we shared.

Click Here to Download Challenges POWERPOINT Presentation


If you have any SOLUTIONS to any of these issues and challenges please post them here! Lastly try to stay POSITIVE as you navigate this new terrain.