Top 6 Online Tools to Help Online Students Feel Conneted

Lisa Dubuc Headshot On Friday September 28th I will be presenting on whether different disciplines are more effectively taught f2f, blended or online as part of our five week Innovator and Online Learning series. (Click here to register for my session.) This is the information I provided for my guest post on the SofthChalk Blog.

Having been teaching online for over 10 years, I’ve learned many strategies for making my online students feel just as much a part of a learning community as my face-to-face (f2f) course.

So, how do I do it?

Well for starters I have all of my content, assignments, and grades in the LMS (ANGEL) for both courses. My f2f course is more of a “flipped” classroom model, in the fact that I do little lecturing in class. Most of the content presentation is done online, this way both of my course sections get the same material regardless of the mode of instruction. We use in-class time for demonstrations, questions, hands-on assignments, and sometimes I show technology related videos, course casts relating to current technology issues, and to clarify the lessons when necessary.

In my online course we don’t see each other or have lessons in real time, but I want my students to know I am there. They need to know there is a “real” instructor teaching them. I want them to feel a part of a learning community and connected to NCCC, especially if they only take online courses and don’t come to campus. I know first-hand that students who don’t feel connected to the course, other students, and the instructor, are not as successful and dissatisfied with the online experience. I work very hard to bridge that gap and I do so with a few of my favorite online tools.

Here are my top 6 online tools:

  1. ANGEL Tokens – When my students log into my course they don’t just see an image of me with some text that welcomes them to my course. Through the use of ANGEL tokens I can code the text to welcome them by name. When they read my announcement in ANGEL that advises them to go to the Learning Modules tab to get started, they see text that welcomes them by name. (I.e. Hi Lisa, Welcome to DIG110) ANGEL tokens allow you to pull the first or first and last name into any text. This is a nice way to address your students when they click on your course for the first time.
  2. Screencasts (some with Webcam) – Once my students go to the learning modules tab, where all of the main course content resides, they click on a document. I use my webcam so they see and hear me and I proceed to make a screencast of how to get started in my course and how to navigate the course in the LMS. I also use Jing, Camtasia Studio, or Screencast-O-matic to introduce each learning module and to provide help support and feedback on some of the course projects. My students love when I go through their final capstone web 2.0 projects and go through the site they created and give them narrated feedback. They get better feedback, because I can show them what I like, how they included elements of good design, and provide suggestions for improvement and overall give them higher quality feedback than if I were to type text based feedback. Also, it saves me a whole bucket load of time to grade big projects in this manner. In turn it’s a win-win for both of us.
  3. VoiceThread (Conversations in the cloud) – This is by far the best tool I have come across to really make students feel they are a part of a “real” class with “real” students and a “real” instructor. I absolutely love this web 2.0 tool.  As an icebreaker assignment I create an online activity, which is a 3 slide PPT uploaded to Voicethread and then I get on my webcam and introduce myself and guide the students for how I want them to introduce themselves to me and the class.  I get amazing feedback from students about the use of Voicethread in my courses.  This tool is not meant for threaded discussions but is an excellent tool for getting to know each other and for having conversions around a variety of media.
  4. SoftChalk Lessons in the Cloud- SoftChalk Cloud – I’m not saying this because this is guest post on the SoftChalk blog. This tool is a must-have when creating professional looking online lessons that support both my f2f and online sections of this course. The tool is so easy to use. I have ten lessons in my course and all are uploaded to the SoftChalk Cloud. I have a quiz at the end of each and the scores are recorded in the score center. Some of the lessons include narrated lectures from me, they have text, images, video, activities, links to learn more, and the list goes on. Both of my sections are required to go through the lessons and take the quiz at the end. I do not spend all of my time lecturing in class and this tool makes it easy for me to provide content to my online section and “flip” my f2f section.
  5. Facebook (Private Groups) – Yes, I use Facebook in my courses. I create a private group each semester so that my f2f students and online students can discuss societal issues related to web technology, emerging technologies, current trends in technology, for sharing course resources, and peer review. Our ANGEL LMS has a great discussion tool feature, but I never got the quality and quantity of interaction I was looking for until I moved from the LMS tool to the private FB group. I used to only use it for peer review and sharing resources for the capstone project, until students starting asking me, “Why can’t we use the FB group for all course discussions?” and I threw caution to the wind and decided to give it a whirl. The interaction sky rocketed in my courses, student’s loved it, and overall it increased the student success rates. They loved being able to use this medium to discuss course related topics with both sections of my class.This is now my third semester solely using the private FB group and I have no complaints. I had only one student say they don’t have FB and didn’t want to, but I explained to that person that it is a course requirement that is listed in the course information and being it’s a web technology course the whole concept of the course is to expose them to a variety of web technologies. My students learn at least one new web 2.0 technology per week, but it is a web technology course that is required of all digital media students and this hasn’t ended up being a problem for me.
  6. Blogger – My students are required to keep a learning journal blog and they submit entries to me bi-weekly and write a reflection essay of what they learned based on their entries at the end of the semester. The students can choose to follow each other’s blogs. This is another way for my online students to connect with my f2f students if they choose to do so. Each entry must include details of what they learned in the learning module, four new terms learned with definitions, and must include digital artifacts. The artifacts can be links to articles, websites, online video, podcasts, or content they created using the web 2.0 tools learned in the course. My favorite part of teaching this course is reading the entries and essay at the end. Just the other day a student submitted his entry and it made me smile and think…This is why I Love Teaching. He gave me permission to share, so have a look.

If you have questions, comments, or would like to learn more about Teaching Well Online & the NCCC recipe of success, please view my blog. You can also subscribe to my posts and follow me on Twitter.  My blog and Tweets are devoted to learning innovation and Teaching Well Online.

Lisa Dubuc , NCCC Coordinator of Electronic Learning

About NCCC Online Learning

I have been helping faculty develop quality courses for delivery online for over 25 years. My online teaching experience includes both online at the undergraduate and graduate level and have created and delivered numerous workshops focusing on the pedagogy of teaching online and strategies to support student success. I hold an M.S. ED in Educational Computing and have proudly worked at SUNY-Niagara County Community College for the last 25 years.
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