Instructor presence with Instant Messaging

Reflecting on my experience as a f2f instructor, I remember spending many afternoons in my department office accomplishing very little of the required “paperwork” because there were frequent knocks on my door. Students with questions or students wanting to share information. Our department received high recommendations from students, primarily because we were all dedicated “available” instructors. Students remind me a lot of children, and I say this in a positive tone because as an Early Childhood Educator I love and appreciate childlike characteristics. One of these characteristics evident in many students is immediate gratification, meaning if they are excited and want to show something….they want to show it now and not in a weeks time; if they have a question….they would like to ask it now and not in three days.

Looking forward to my future as an online instructor I still cherish the idea of hearing a knock on my door but since that is not really possible I thought it could just be transformed to a “knock” on my computer in the form of an instant message (IM) pop up. This does not mean that I intend to work 24/7 (although my f2f experience almost felt like that), instead it means that when I am in my office working I can still have the same open door policy that I have always enjoyed. If I do not wish to make myself available I can always turn my instant messaging to offline/unavailable or even invisible.

I see IM as a useful tool to create a strong community in an online environment. Sending a quick IM web link, or a quick reminder for an assignment, or a “Happy Holiday” all serve as a personal yet professional link to the community of the course. Students can send a question to the group and anyone can IM back. It’s quick, accessible, community oriented, establishes strong links and creates cohesiveness among the members. IM allows students the security that the instructor is just a click away. It might also be encouraging when students are working on the course on a Saturday afternoon and they see others are online too and can send quick messages to encourage each other.

The link below offers an abstract on a study conducted on students using IM in undergraduate and graduate courses both on-site and online. Although there were some obstacles such as privacy concerns there were many advantages especially with regards to community.

The next link questions the effect of IM on the correct use of grammar, spelling and punctuation, or as quoted “bastardization” of language. My view is that students should be mature enough to understand that the use of language needs to be appropriate for the context or audience, regardless of the tool used.

There are several different options for IM like MSN, Yahoo, Google etc as well as sites that support different networks such as Trillian. After reviewing several options and reflecting back on the profiles of students in the previous course of EDUC 4150 I noticed that most students have Skype accounts (probably all students do because they usually have a Skype meeting with Joanne Reid the instructor). My thoughts are to just use the Skype account for IM as well, because this would prevent privacy concerns of students already using IM on a personal level with their friends. It would also negate the need to add yet another tool.  I might consider Trillian as another option, provided students are willing to download the application, but I would first need to explore it more fully. Lync is another option worth exploring.


Rob Kelly posted “Nine Strategies for using IM in your online course” in Faculty Focus. This link is also available in the resource section.

Instructor presence is directly linked to student success in a course.

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Facebook Page vs Facebook Group

Reading an article in Faculty Focus entitled “Experimenting with Facebook in the College Classroom” I was intrigued by the difference in creating a Facebook Page versus a Facebook group especially from the students’ perspective. In my mind a Facebook page seemed like an excellent tool to use in the classroom because course materials, feedback, news items, discussions and more could be posted in an easily visible place. I had not even considered that students might not want to be so “visible” when it came to posting academic reports or responses. In the article it was pointed out that “students tend to be concerned about their online persona-saying something unintelligent is a big concern for them.” The article concludes that students prefer the “Closed Facebook Group” because “They are apprehensive about asking questions in open groups where their Facebook friends can judge them as scholastically inept (Selwyn)”


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Using Polls in eLearning

Reading through “Teaching with Technology: Tools and Strategies to Improve Student Learning” from Faculty Focus, I have been enlightened as to the usefulness of “Polls”. Since most people can only retain about 20 minutes of information in our short-term memory, it is important to offer reflection so that it can move to our long-term memory. Using a poll will help with class engagement and offer a reflection activity. There are a variety of free websites that allow you to set up polls. A fun poll initiative uses smartphones to text in the answers. I know my students would enjoy that. The poll can be incorporated into a PowerPoint and when that slide is shown students can text their response and the graph begins to appear in that PowerPoint slide as their responses are recorded. Wow! The link for this poll is

Take a look at the following link which shows a video demonstrating the use of Poll Everywhere.

MicroPoll offers a system that is easy to embed in a website, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

Flisti requires no sign up and is super easy to use.

Try the “Poll” below

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Accessibility of technology

My initial thought of “accessibility of technology” was internet connection, computer, tablet smartphone etc but in actual fact it refers to a broader range of accessible features. VoiceThread wanted to serve the needs of everyone including those with dyslexia, ADHD, living in a developing world with no high speed internet, kindergarten children, elderly and more. They requested input from differently-abled users. Originally Voice Thread decided not to enable video because we don’t usually need video on phone conversations and it can just be distracting. However feedback from Rosemary Stifter at Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf and hearing impaired, requested video so that students could participate with sign language. Click on the video and watch this Voice Thread interaction of the students, their facial expressions, emotions and individuality. Although Voice Thread did already offer text the inclusion of video created a richer environment for learning for these students.

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Top 100 Tools For Learning 2013

Jane Hart founder of “Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies” (C4LPT) won the Colin Corder Award for “Outstanding Contributions to Learning”.

Her website offers independent advice on the new learning trends, technologies and tools. The website has become one of the world’s most visited learning sites on the web with around 200,000 monthly visits.

Below is a slideshare of the top 100 tools for learning 2013

“A learning tool is a tool for your own personal or professional learning or one you use for teaching or training.”
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Are you designing a “NEXTER” course?

Richard Culatta reminds us that good learning is inherently a social activity. Content is learned through interactions with other people about the content. When designing a course it is critical to provide these interactions. Micheal More in 1989 identified three interactions required in a course; learner/learner; learner/expert and learner/content. Making conscious design decisions to include tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Wikis and Blogs will avoid the pitfalls of your course being a mere data dump. Richard refers to this as the traditional “nexter” computer based training where the learner clicks next, next, next and ends with a little quiz. This does not constitute learning.

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Variability across learners


  • Adults arrive with a pre-existing learning and experience. It is important to provide pre-assessment strategies and opportunities for introductions
  • Age. Generations of learners demonstrate different traits in learning
  • Learning styles. Using a learning style quiz might bring awareness to the learner and instructor about preferred learning styles. Visual, auditory or kinesthetic
  • Motivation. Why is the student in the learning environment and what is the learner’s attitude towards the course
  • Technology proficiency. Will the learner require extra support or add new technology to the environment
  • Discussion comfort level. Some students are hesitant to become involved in discussions especially if personal viewpoints are required
  • Language proficiency. Understanding  course and portraying own work
  • Perceptions. It is important to try and establish how students are perceiving the content. Use frequent assessment and feedback
  • Goals. Establishing the student goals.

The UDL (Universal Design for Learning) encourages that the design of the curriculum should facilitate learning to accommodate all kinds of learners. They focus on three aspects

  1. Multiple means of representation to give the learners various ways to acquire information and knowledge
  2. Multiple means of expression to provide learners with alternative methods of demonstrating what they know
  3. Multiple means of engagement to tap into learners interests, motivate them and challenge them

In my opinion these three steps provide a broad framework that will help in designing an online course. This framework can further be developed to include additional steps as the instructor’s experience grows.

The video below offers a brief summary of the Universal Design for Learning


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