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It’s the end of another very busy term.  I taught 5 courses this term which probably helps explain why I have neglected this poor blog for the better part of the last four months.  I apologize. As I look toward the spring and the summer courses I am scheduled to teach, I really hope to find more time to keep this blog space up to date.

As a first step in reentering the blogging world, I am going to do a brief wrap up post to reflect a little bit about what worked and what didn’t in my virtual classrooms this term.

1. Group presentations.  In my brand new course on Contemporary Literacies, my students worked together in small groups to create a group presentation on a topic of their choosing.  Although working in groups on a project like this is challenging for students working at a distance, my students faced challenges (such as different time zones, technical issues, etc.) and created presentations that were informative and fascinating.  I will definitely be using more group and paired assignments in the future.  If you are interested, you can see the final projects here: http://edes543atuofa.wikispaces.com/Group+Presentations+on+Literacy+Topics

2.  This I Believe. In the same course, I decided to give a smaller final project instead of a big paper or research project.  Modelled after NPR’s This I Believe program, I asked the students in my class to synthesize their learning and write a short piece about what you now believe about the future of literacy, literacy leadership, reading, etc. in schools and school libraries. I think it was a challenging assignment, in part because of the length (no more than 1000 words) required students to be brief and to really synthesize what they had learned in a clear, concise way.  It was also challenging because I asked them to record their statements and post the mp3 to the course wiki.  I think hearing the words spoken aloud forced some people to revise and reflect even more. To me, this was a really powerful final assignment that was much more effective than a traditional research paper or final reflection.  If you are interested in seeing and hearing some of my students’ fantastic statements, they are all posted to the course wiki here: http://edes543atuofa.wikispaces.com/This+I+Believe+Assignment

3.  Face-to-Face via Skype. I taught a section of the Department of Elementary Education’s capping course this term (it is the final course students take in their MEd).  I helped 11 students through the process of writing a large paper on a topic of their choice.  One thing I discovered as part of teaching this class is how important and powerful the occasional face-to-face conversation can be in an online course.  I had the chance to skype with several of the students in my class and really enjoyed that face-to-face interaction.  I don’t know how possible it is to schedule regular skype conversations with students (particularly when I am teaching 30 students in a section) but it reminded me of the importance of connecting with my students in different ways.

4. Information gets missed. I need to think about new ways to ensure that the students in my classes see and pay attention to all the relevant information on the course site.  I know that in the early days of a course, there is a lot of information to take in and remember, but I discovered 2/3 of the way through one of my classes that a few people really misunderstood a major part of the course requirements.  It is cleared up now, but it got me thinking about what I can and should be doing in the early days of a course to make sure that all that important information is shared in an effective way without being overwhelming.

5.  Grading.  Assessment of student work is hard and takes a lot of time.  I usually try very hard to get my students’ work back to them as quickly as possible, often within a few days of an assignment being submitted.  However, this term, sometimes the grading  just got away from me and I could not mark as fast as I had hoped. This term I had to learn to cut myself a little slack and not worry too much if I didn’t get my grading done as quickly as I would like.

I am still processing and thinking about this term and considering how to make adjustments to my next set of classes based on what I learned this term.  I am looking forward to continuing to improve my teaching and my courses for my next groups of students.

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