About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Improving online interaction

I was asked to give a presentation on improving interaction for online courses. This is a very complex question. The answer lies in research that has been done in online learning, social psychology, distance or online education, communication (including interpersonal, group, and CM communication), and even organizational development. This blog post will give a basic overview of the problems, barriers, factors, and concepts most researchers agree upon. Later next week, I will upload in-depth posts on choice of technology and its affect on interaction (including private, public, and personal interaction), instructional design to maximize online interaction, types of interaction and their purposes, and models of interaction for learning (including organizational learning).

In a previous paper, I identified 4 factors that affect online interaction: Technology, community, instructional constraints, and time.


Many times, instructors have limited choices of technology type. Because of privacy issues, many US universities and organizations require instructors to use learning management systems (LMS) that allow for privacy. However, these same technologies may limit interaction. For example, Blackboard discussion boards may be difficult for students to identify when a new thread has been started. This would result in discussion that favors one discussion over another because students (or even instructors) are unaware of new information. These more structured LMS tend to structure instruction as two way rather than multiple interaction. On the other hand, Adobe Connect, with audio presentation and chat functions that can be used simultaneously, allow for multiple conversations. However, for some students this can be chaotic.

LMS's also tend to promote "formal" interaction rather than informal. The devise that an individual accesses class interaction can also affect how "public", "personal", or "private" the interaction may be perceived. Even using the same software, an email may appear more private if received on a smartphone than when it is received on a public computer. This might change the way in which a person interacts, either becoming more formal (or informal), more open (or more private) depending on the technology used.

Finally, the level of support, comfort with technology, and reliable access can influence how successful students can interact with other students or their instructor. Students located internationally or in rural areas may not have access to high speed internet. There may also be compatibility problems that affect student participation.


Different programs create different types of learning communities and different communities of practice. The expectations of these communities, a student's ability to relate to the community or know of community norms, and the ability to participate within the discourse community all affect interaction. Students who lack confidence may tend to be "lurkers" who are afraid or, at least, reluctant to participate. They may feel that they will be rejected if they participate or they may not want to belong to community due the perception that they are have a different culture or style.

Instructors may need to develop (with the class) communication norms so that all students are working from the same set of rules. In addition, an instructor may need to help create a safe environment to work and learn through interaction at the individual, group, and class levels.


This is an aspect of interaction that is often overlooked. In face to face interaction, two people can interrupt, read visual cues, and straighten out misunderstandings within a short time span. Interaction online (even if it is through video) may take more time and may be more difficult to follow. On the other hand, there is more time for planned interaction and responses. Instructors can ask for a deeper level of reflection. Another barrier to online learning may be a difference in time zone. As a result, any interaction might take longer to develop. There is also a greater chance of losing motivation during the interaction.

Two ways in which instructors and instructional designers can help to overcome these barriers is to assign facilitators and due dates. It is important for all members of the class to remember the time differences and ensure that times are posted with time zones. Related to time zones are the outside pressures to an online student. There may be work, family, or other activity pressures that limit the time when students and instructors are available. Therefore, it becomes important that there are clear expectations for predictable times within which interaction will take place.

Instructional Constraints

I have taught in Language, Communication, Education, Research, Globalization, Marketing, and Business departments. Some are quantitative in content, some are skill based, some are qualitative, some have static content, some have content that is changing AS I was teaching. I have also taught short term intensive weekend courses, hybrid courses, online courses, workshops, full length year long courses, courses with standardized content, courses which are customized...really any type of configuration you can think of.

In each of these instances, there were some shared givens: well thought out goals and objectives, assessments that matched the course goals and objectives, a student, and a well thought out instructional design appropriate for the student and assessment/goals/objectives.

However, due to the variability of courses, there may need to be different types of interaction. The Community of Inquiry (developed by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer) is one model commonly used as a jumping off point. The model looks at the intersection of social presence, teacher presence, and cognitive presence. Factors such as student experience, previous knowledge, learning environment, external and internal resources, and even culture and language all can have an effect on course interaction.

Improving Interaction

Over the next few weeks, I will be writing some suggestions on how to deal with the factors I discussed here. I will look at research from various disciplines and give some concrete suggestions on how to improve the interaction in an online course at the individual, group, and course level.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Just in Time Teaching #adjunctchat September 9

We've all been there. Either the last minute call asking us to pick up a class (that perhaps we've never taught) or not having a class prepared because of a last minute emergency at home or our other job. How do we handle it?

First, the nature of adjunct/contingent work makes us more likely to get that last minute call when someone quits unexpectedly. On the one hand, many of us feel that this is a favor we can't turn down. If we do this favor, they may give us more/better classes or better times. This may even be a way to connect with the department for tenure track positions. On the other hand, this means we start classes behind. Being given a class last minute means you may not be able to choose the text or even change the syllabus. So the first question is:

1) When do you say yes to a last minute teaching request? What are the pros and cons of saying yes or no.

Once you have committed yourself to teaching the course, what are some ways to get prepared quickly? I use other syllabi. Most universities have syllabi on record from previous semesters. This is always good starting point. However, for me it is important that I make the syllabus my own. I usually will take the text if one has already been ordered because it is too difficult to stop the process. It is important not to teach from the textbook, though. I like to divide my courses into 4 or 5 modules throughout the semester (from my online teaching days). This allows me to group together concepts and readings so readings don't have to be taught sequentially. I also look for other universities' syllabi for teaching/assignment ideas. This has been very successful for my own teaching. Why reinvent the wheel when you have limited time?

So the second question for discussion is:

2) How do you get prepared quickly for a class you have just been given? What resources are available? What instructional design process do you use?

Of course, if you are given a teaching assignment last minute, you may find you are one chapter ahead of the students, especially when it comes to specialized vocabulary used in a text or creating assessments (quizzes, tests, assignments, projects). Many of us who are teaching a course we have been given a while ago may also come to class without knowing what they are going to do for that class. Life happens. Illness, family responsibilities (both younger and older members of the family), outside work, research, conferences, weather, etc...

Even worse for adjuncts are when you have something prepared but are not able to use it. How many of you have taken the wrong bag or forgotten your notes somewhere else? Many of my colleagues admit to having gone to the wrong school or gotten the time wrong (for the day they had to teach) when they work at multiple locations. They also had the wrong class prep at the wrong location. Then there are the times when technology fails, especially for those working early morning or late a night when there is no technical support. The third question for discussion is:

3) What has caused you to be ill-prepared in class? How did you manage it?

I have a few types of activities that I have prepared in case I'm not prepared for the class. These usually student generated (i.e. make up their own jeopardy questions which the rest of the class needs to answer or spending the class time working in teams creating a presentation on the topic). I also am a great believer in games and "playing". In my case, games and simulations work well in the fields of communication, management, education, ESL, and marketing (the fields I've taught in). However, I think it could work in other fields also. It is a great way to assess students and allow students to learn in more ambiguous environments.

4) What are some "go to" activities you use if you can't use the lesson you had prepared? What about activities in the case where you aren't prepared for a class?