Monday, August 20, 2012

Instructor Dispositions in Online Courses

The most interesting session I attended at the 2012 Distance Teaching and Learning Conference in Madison, WI, was about instructor dispositions in online courses. This is a concept I think is really important but is often overlooked, so I was excited to find research on the topic. The presenter was Kathleen Sheridan from National Louis University in Chicago. She published on this topic back in 2010 and recently performed a follow-up study which was the topic of this session. I don't believe it is published yet.

Dispositions are "qualities that characterize a person as an individual." Dr. Sheridan explained appropriate dispositions for online instructors include kindness, having a sense of humor, dependableness, honesty, empathy, and having a positive view of the students. Dispositions make up online presence, which is different from simply being present. She described that the students get a feeling of who the instructor is when the are demonstrating the right disposition for online teaching. It isn't just the instructor sharing personal information about him/herself - actually, they found the students mostly care about what the instructor has to say about them rather than what the instructor shares about him/herself (i.e., they want personalized feedback). They also aren't that interested in synchronous communication, phone conversations, being able to see and hear the instructor, or the instructor having a personal website. I was surprised that being able to hear and see the instructor wasn't rated highly.

Dr. Sheridan gave an example of an instructor who did an excellent job designing the course but was receiving very poor student evaluations and occasional outright complaints from students. Turns out the instructor responded to discussions as if she was texting: very abruptly with no salutation. She didn't provide any personalized feedback or individualized acknowledgements of the students. In addition, she didn't check her email over the weekend but didn't tell the students when she'd be checking email or what her response time would be in general, so they felt that she was taking too long to respond. When the instructor learned to attend to these aspects, her evals were much better. She had increased her presence in the course and showed the right dispositions.

Here is a picture I took of one of her slides that sums up things online instructors can do to be more successful in creating online presence. My favorite is "Participate in discussions or don't assign them!" Her specific suggestion for students who aren't in the class is to say "We miss you in class and would like to hear what you have to say." Interestingly, she found that if you start off the class really focusing on communication and presence, it is ok to back off later in the class because you've set the right stage.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

MASLO: Mobile Access to Supplementary Learning Objects

MASLO is the topic of the first pre-conference session I attended at the 2012 Distance Teaching and Learning conference in Madison, WI. Presenters were Rovy Brannon, Moses Wolfenstein, and Cathrin Weiss from UW-Extension. Here are some facts about MASLO:
  • It is necessary to download Adobe Air and the MASLO authoring tool in order to create the content. Content has to be authored on a computer and works best on a Mac. 
  • It's very user friendly to create content. Faculty can do this!
  • Content created with MASLO is only available to students/users on mobile devices, via the app, and then is installed on the device so it can be viewed offline. 
  • MASLO accepts the following content pieces: text, images, mp4 video (no URLs - only mp4s), and you can add quiz questions. 
  • The resulting learning object is an individual screen per content piece. So you could have a text intro, a picture with a caption, a video, a quiz, etc. Just swipe to get the next piece of content. It's kind of like breaking down a webpage into each paragraph/image/video per mobile screen, with a quiz for some interaction and self checking. Kind of hard to explain. 
  • Check out Rovy Brannon's blog post and video about MASLO for more info including screenshots. 
So this was all good but here's the deal breaker for me at this point: MASLO is open source but it is not hosted. We'd have to set up our own instance at UWEC. Then we'd need to create our app (or add it to our Boopsie app? They said the app code is open source.). Then we'd have to figure out where to host the content. The presenters are from Extension and they host theirs on Amazon. They said other options are Dropbox and a good old server. So if faculty created content they'd have to send it to a central person? I don't really understand this, so unfortunately this lack of true applicability makes it not very valuable to me at this point. I was hoping it would publish locally.

I also don't know the applicability of creating content JUST for mobile. I was hoping that it would be accessible on a computer too. I'm not sure which faculty would want to do this, or if any non-academic departments would want to. So, this was interesting, but I don't know what to do with the info...I'm looking forward to talking to our Mobile Technology Specialist when I get back. I wish he was here to interpret for me now.

Here are a few random additional things I learned: 
  • A new term (from Rovy's blog post): Eating Your Own Dog Food (Dogfooding). Ha! Basically it means proving/demonstrating your product via your product. 
  • There is a future standard for sharing data between different apps, the future of SCORM, called Tin Can. They developed MASLO with Tin Can in mind. 
Image from