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creating collaborative communities in e-learning

I have to confess, I am a thief. I stole learning guides from Susan. I stole active participation from John. I stole routines from Liz. I stole LON-CAPA from Ed. I stole the Dear Mr. Campbell letter from Toni. I will continue to steal the best practices in education. Why? I want to be equipped to create an environment where positive learning memories are possible, and respect, clarity, and safety are norms. I am not concerned whether the best practice comes from the traditional, flipped, blended, or hybrid classroom. I seek and my students deserve the best practices in education. So to Susan, John, Liz, Ed, Toni, Kay, and Lisa, I say "Thank you!" My students will benefit from your best practices and I will be a better teacher/facilitator/designer.

Resource of the Week: The Flipped Classroom Infographic provides a definition, brief history, design flow, and assessment results of the flipped classroom model at Clintondale High School (Detroit, Michigan). 

Question of the Day: How do we reconcile learning conducive to Twitter-like understanding with instruction seeking Socratic-like behavior?

Module 2: Educational Theories

Alan Campbell: "A-N-D-R-A-G-O-G-Y." 

Moderator: "CorrectNow use the word in a sentence."  

Alan Campbell: "Andragogy is the art and science of helping adults learn." (Knowles, 1980, p. 43)

Moderator: "Correct."

I was challenged to analyze the characteristics and needs of the adult learner this week. In doing so I learned a new word, andragogy. At first I was skeptical, as a classroom teacher and potential online instructor, I felt the needs of all learners were the same. Respect, relevance, and transference are important to all. Experience, motivation, and unlearning, though, can be significantly different for the adult learner.

Adults come with an elaborate and diverse set of experiences. In the context of social constructivism, adults are in a strong position to make contributions to the corporate knowledge of the group. In addition, embedded ethnic, cultural, and individual differences can enhance and embellish the learning for all. The online instructor must provide opportunities for the adult learner to use their experience to enhance learning. For when this is done, the learning will become both personal and permanent.

Most adults can be motivated to learn via the needs of the family or job. A commitment to obtain additional education or training can lead to more pay for home or a promotion at work. For adults, the catalyst for motivation delineates to success dependent upon relevance and transference. The online instructor must routinely illuminate this path, new learning to relevance to transference to success. Thus, creating a learner who knows why they are learning and how the learning will contribute to their life.

Also, for the adult learner, the process of unlearning is different. Time is the key variable. For an adult to "unlearn" (Coutu, 2002, p. 6) is complex because over time they have developed confidence (whether misplaced or not) in previous learning. The online instructor must provide opportunities for cognitive dissonance. By "agitating" the learner, inspection and reflection of current thinking will occur. Thus, allowing the learner to either deepen or unlearn prior knowledge.

The online instructor must be aware of the nature and needs of the adult learner. Respect, relevance, and transference, normal to all learners, must be present and sustained throughout the online course. The online instructor, though, cannot stop there. With the adult learner, utilizing experience, supporting motivation, and nudging unlearning are just as critical.

Questions of the DayWhat is the best method to use to transfer the effective socially constructive events found in a face-to-face classroom to an online environment? How do we maintain a human touch in formative and summative feedback in an online environment?


Knowles, M. S. (1980). The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy. (2nd ed.) New York: Cambridge Books

Coutu, D. (2002). The Anxiety of Learning. Harvard Business Review, March-April, 1-8.

EDUC 760 E-Learning for Educators   EDUC 762 Assessment in E-Learning   EDUC 763 Instructional Design for E-Learning   

EDUC 761 Creating Collaborative Communities in E-Learning   EDUC 764 E-Learning Practicum

Module 3: Facilitation

I am a little embarrassed this week. When I chose my scenario to practice facilitation, I assumed the worst first. Here's the scenario followed by my initial thought:

ScenarioA student submits a posting but it is only 2-3 sentences in length and doesn't address the assignment. By email the student tells the instructor they hope their posting "will count"  and seems to need a lot of encouragement and support. Shyness may be an issue. 

My initial thought was this student procrastinated and sent the email to "beg" for a grade. 

After reflection, though, I realized there could be other explanations. The student may be a reluctant learner, not understand the directions, or simply be uncomfortable in an online environment. After discussion with my classmates, I also considered the student may not have English as their first language.

As an online instructor, I have to be better than my first reaction. I need to keep an open mind and look to support all learners as I find them. I cannot go into this field looking to catch people doing something wrong. I must help them make good decisions and catch them doing something right.

Module 4: Community Matrix

When I consider the significant "aha" moment I have had in the Collaborative Communities course, I realize I am my own barrier to becoming an effective online instructor. My firm grip on what I thought to be true was actually a deflection of a gross over-simplification. I did not want to readily accept the unique needs and attributes of the adult learner (andragogy). I held onto a simple belief, learning is learning and this is how we do it. I expect the learner to adapt to what I believe is best for them as opposed to me hearing what they have to say on the matter. Yes, my experience and proactivity can build a positive learning environment conducive to growth. However, just as powerful is the experience and initiative of the learner. Furthermore, if I expect the learners to collaborate among themselves, so I must collaborate with them. There must be rich dialog about content as well as needs. I must hear what they have to say and act accordingly.

The catalyst behind this "aha" moment occurred in Module 3. A classmate facilitator chose a discussion prompt where a student had posted minimal work followed by an email asking for credit. Since I see a great deal of procrastination in my f2f classroom, I jumped to that conclusion and assumed the email was an attempt to beg for a grade. As the members of my group discussed the prompt, I became aware of other plausible explanations. I became embarrassed at how fast I had jumped to my original conclusion.

Ironically, during this same module I missed one of the assignments. I thought I had completed all of the required components but completely missed posting my Personal Learning Environment. My embarrassment increased.

As an online instructor, I have to have a wider view of events. I must plan and structure my course in a manner where all students can find success. I must approach each student with the intent to catch them doing something right. Each activity and each response must be pointing toward their success. The student knowing more when they leave than when they entered is the only thing that matters. 

EDUC 760 E-Learning for Educators   EDUC 762 Assessment in E-Learning   EDUC 763 Instructional Design for E-Learning   

EDUC 761 Creating Collaborative Communities in E-Learning   EDUC 764 E-Learning Practicum

Module 5: In the beginning...

When planning to facilitate an online course one must image replicating face-to-face interactions and activities in a virtual environment. Quality planning and creating a safe, welcoming learning environment are critical. How will the 70-30 rule impact this process? What triumphs and challenges will influence my choices? How will I confront those challenges so as to minimize or eliminate them in the future?

According to Lehmann and Chamberlin (2009), "Approximately 70 percent of an instructor's total effort for the entire course takes place during the precourse-through-first week window, this is known as the 70/30 rule. Preparation and communication are the keys to success..."

Clearly, the first impression I provide online students must be interesting, organized, and transparent. In order for this to happen, a lion's share of the time devoted to the course must be invested in writing the precourse and first week information. Poor preparation here could lead to frustrated students, loss of students, and a disappointed instructor. In order to manage this critical window of time, I will integrate the best practices from my f2f classroom with the best practices of online education. The triumphs from each will become RLO's (reusable learning objects) while the challenges will lead to the creation of new RLO's. Thus, if you were to revisit this reflection in six months, a year, or five years from now, you mostly likely would notice a few revisions. For now, though, here is my plan for preparing to teach my first online course.

Expectations: In preparing to teach a course online I must have clear expectations in my own mind. Once chosen, I must model the expectations in my work as well as provide students with a clear path on which to reach those expectations. Clarity and transparency within the course expectations have great potential to reduce the number of questions asked during the course.

Administrivia: Resolving student computer issues and connectivity can absorb a large amount of an instructor's time. I must be proactive in anticipating what issues may arise as well as create resources which will help students resolve their own issues. In addition, I must be standing by to lend assistance on any student issue which cannot be resolved independently. Course registration, payment, and transcript request information should also be included in this self-help section of the course.

All Questions Welcome: An online learning environment must be established as well as maintained to ensure all students are comfortable asking their questions. I must keep a close eye on the weekly discussions to ensure a healthy and inclusive dialog becomes the norm. 

Course Content and Activities: When selecting course content and activities there are three things that I must address: relevancy, relevancy, and relevancy. As I write and edit the course, module descriptions, reading assignments, discussion prompts, portfolio components, and any other course-related component must be relevant to the students. Failure to ensure relevancy on each component would create unnecessary challenges, the most detrimental of which would be losing student interest. Note: The best method to ensure course activities are relevant is for the instructor to complete and modify as needed each activity prior to assigning it to students. 

Welcoming Email and Beyond: "First impressions are the most lasting impressions." (Author Unknown) The welcoming email will be my first opportunity to leave an impression on my online students. The email must be positive, informative, interesting, and short. After reading the welcoming email students should know what is going to happen, what they need to do next, and feel eager to get started. The challenge, then, becomes to repeat this approach for each module used in the course.

Initiating and Maintaining Learner-to-Learner Contacts: Creating and maintaining a community of learners within an online class is a critical. Promoting collaboration within each activity and regardless of end product authorship will provide constant fuel to course momentum. Students will find engagement with their classmates via course content both beneficial and interesting. Social constructivism will be in play and learners will feel connected to their virtual classmates in a variety of ways. In many cases, more so than in a face-to-face classroom where meaningful student interactions are often assumed to occur naturally but actually do not. In facilitating an online course, I must structure and nurture this course component with both a firm hand and a gentle touch. 

Planning for an online course is synonymous to planning for a face-to-face course. Relevancy in all components remains critical. The 70/30 rule is still in play, so quality time must be invested to ensure the course accomplishes its intended purpose. Students should feel a sense of accomplishment while breaking a meaningful cognitive sweat and maintaining authentic learner-to-learner connections. Triumphs and challenges will abound online, but I have the choice of making even the challenges valuable to the students and myself. Reflection will remain constant. Analysis will remain worthwhile. Student success will remain why.


Lehmann, K., & Chamberlin, L. (2009). The All-Important Window of Time: Precourse Work Through the First Week. Making the Move to eLearning: Putting Your Course Online. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Eductation.

Module 6: Time Management

Time management is a dilemma for all educators. Kay Lehmann, in her article, Time Management Strategies for Online Instructors, identifies two strategies which will make my life as an online instructor better: handle it once and work smarter, not harder, at online grading

Handle it once will be significant for me if I can actually do it. I am an email hoarder who continually flags key emails to revisit. Needless to say, several of these flagged emails do not get revisited nor addressed properly. As an online instructor I must retrain myself to read an email, respond appropriately, file it, and move on. 

As I address assessment in an online environment, I will need to work smarter, not harder, at online grading. In order to do this I will maintain and utilize a bank of reusable learning objects (RLO's) as well as a bank of reusable assessment objects (RAO's). Both objects should be revised to reflect current course actions as well as deployed in a personalized manner.

Handle it once and work smarter, not harder at online grading, if used consistently will allow me to use my time as an online instructor more efficiently. Students will receive timely responses as well as feedback and I will avoid a backlog of issues to address. The frustration levels of all involved should remain manageable.

Handle it once

  • Email – if a message requires a reply or an action, do it right then. Put emails that need to be kept, but not acted on, in a specific folder before closing them. If the email is pure junk or not needed, delete it, don't keep it… just in case.
  • Discussions – make note of important contributions while reading discussion postings. Keep a gradesheet hard copy handy or have a spreadsheet open to make notes while reading. 
  • Assignments – make notes or grade assignments as they arrive. Add to the filename so that it is immediately clear which items have been graded. For example WongMPowerPoint.ppt would become WongMPowerPointGRADED.ppt *
  • Focused Thinking – This chart by Learning Fundamentals is helpful for all online instructors in the age of distraction.

Work smarter, not harder, at grading

  • Keep comments and news announcements from previous semesters. Organize announcements/news that are posted each semester, welcome letter, commentary on a topic, etc. in Word documents or make it a permanent part of the course within course content, and set release dates at the beginning of each semester.
  • Use rubrics to make grading easier and to clarify expectations for the student. 
  • Establish peer feedback activities using rubrics or checklists to provide an opportunity for students to revise and improve assignments before final submission to the dropbox.
  • Customize feedback comments for each student/course section; students hate (as well they should) canned comments. However there is no reason to type out everything again if some comments remain the same from student to student or section to section. Adapt or reuse them next semester. * 
  • Spread out the grading. Schedule self-graded or shorter assignments after a long, complex assignment to allow time and energy for grading the longer assignment properly. Carefully set due dates so that a two day turnaround time for grading assignments is possible. 
  • Link the dropbox folders to the gradebook to facilitate faster grading and feedback. 
  • If appropriate, wait until shortly after the due date of an assignment and download an entire folder at one time.


Lehmann, K. (2010). Time Management Strategies for Online Instructors. Retrieved February 22, 2015,                   from

EDUC 760 E-Learning for Educators   EDUC 762 Assessment in E-Learning   EDUC 763 Instructional Design for E-Learning   

EDUC 761 Creating Collaborative Communities in E-Learning   EDUC 764 E-Learning Practicum

Module 7: Critical Thinking and Facilitation

The focus on critical thinking is, in and of itself, the most important event of Module 7. The concept of continually putting learners in a position to think and respond critically should be the purpose of any educational endeavor. Making critically thinking the norm within a course becomes the challenge. If successful, the online instructor creates a learning environment conducive to learning and fun. Fun, of course, is the fuel for the "ments"...movement, engagement, investment, and statement. That is The Simple Teacher speak for, the students will be active learners engaged and invested in the course who say and do things that are interesting and fun to grade.

In my role as a facilitator this week, I found myself using a new tool, Blackboard Collaborate. I posted our agenda (including a warm-up question) on the whiteboard within Blackboard Collaborate. The purpose of the warm-up question was to activate prior knowledge and act as a buffer should anyone "arrive" late to the chat. Since the agenda (and warm-up question) had been sent via email ahead of time, participants knew what was going to happen before it happened. I started and ended the session on time as well as followed the framework of the agenda. We were not able to cover all of the agenda items, so unfinished items were moved to our debrief session. The final ten minutes of the chat allowed participants to summarize their experience, thus creating their own pathway to the debrief session.  

In the debrief session, I provided significant attention to each post in an effort to continue the "conversation feel" initiated during the chat. I attempted to create a virtual environment where each person felt they had my ear. In my replies to participants, I focused on a relevant point presented and encouraged them to go deeper in their thoughts. Their response directly determined my next question. Thus, I feel my first attempt at leading a Synchronous Chat was a success. I also understand there is room for improvement, especially in the area of orchestration. (Un)fortunately, I just get too excited when a colleague triggers an educational thought.

Facilitator Questions for Synchronous Chat: Critical Thinking

Synchronous Chat Transcript: Critical Thinking

Module 8: Management and Resources

I do not have to wait until the end of the week to complete the last reflection for Collaborative Communities. What did I learn while taking the course? I learned not to travel while I am taking an online course. Trips to Italy and the USA, even though short in duration, totally disrupted my momentum in the course. Ok, we now return to regularly scheduled program. In Collaborative Communities, I learned to avoid assumptions. In Module 2, I was confronted with the reality of andragogy and the uniqueness of the adult learner. For some time now, I had assumed all learners were the same. In part this is true, but as an online instructor I have to be aware of the unique characteristics of the adult learner. In Module 3, I was embarrassed when I assumed the 'worst first' while analyzing a scenario involving an online student submitting a sub-standard assignment. In the online environment, I must approach each learner as if I have received their best work. If an assignment is "sub-standard" (in my opinion), then I must employ targeted questioning techniques to draw the student out and support the embellishment of their original response. Also in Module 3, upon receiving feedback on my PLE, I realized I had not included individuals. As an online instructor, mentorship and peer collaboration are critical components of a successful experience. I cannot assume an isolated journey into online education will be a productive one. In Module 6, I assumed I would have connectivity and iPad-tivity while traveling. I did not, managing to take my partner and I from a strong position to a weak position on our Tip Sheet. Note to self: As part of the pre-course communication, inform students of the potential hazards of traveling and support their proactivity in planning for alternative success. In "Module 9": Progression Into Online Facilitation, I realized I cannot assume I am ready to be an online instructor. As I interacted with the people in this course, I realized I need to improve the depth of understanding of the tools I plan to use with my online students. Sure, I can use the tools, but can I actually teach others how to use them? Can I help resolve compatibility issues? Can I support multiple users using a wide variety of devices? My reluctance is in part the fear of the "unknown" and in part accommodating the pace at which technology is changing. 

EDUC 760 E-Learning for Educators   EDUC 762 Assessment in E-Learning   EDUC 763 Instructional Design for E-Learning   

EDUC 761 Creating Collaborative Communities in E-Learning   EDUC 764 E-Learning Practicum