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Improving Retention in Online Courses Takes Work, But Do Retention Techniques Help?

I’ve been teaching online now for 18 years. Makes me sound old, especially since so many instructors are brand new to teaching online. Well times have changed, students have changed, and the technology we use to teach online has changed too, not all for the better. What I mean by that is students have different expectations of what online learning is and most mistakenly believe online courses will be easier for them to complete. As an online instructor, this is often difficult to deal with especially if you’re set on improving retention in your courses. Over the years I’ve developed some pretty standard processes to help with this, but more so lately I’ve found that those strategies are reaching directly to the student and not necessarily the course design. However, I’ll preview a few of each in this post.

First, students need to be aware of what the expectations are for the online course up front and preferably before the course begins. This way students will have an opportunity to learn what is expected and make a wise decision to continue on or drop and add an on-ground course. As a policy for our English department online courses, we open the courses 3-7 days before the start date. We also send a welcome letter to students outlining the expectations of the course, which generally discusses expected study time each week and advice on what it takes to be successful in the online course. Here is an example letter here. I’ve had a few students opt out of the class after reading the letter and taking a look around the online course.

Another retention technique is to include an orientation in the first week of your course. The orientation will give students early on a taste of many of the kinds of tasks they will be assigned to do throughout the course. Having them experience these things early on with low stakes makes doing these tasks later on much easier. It also ensures the instructor that all students know how to do what is expected when it’s time to do them. I require students to complete the orientation within the first five days of the course in order to remain enrolled in the course. If they don’t complete it, they are dropped as a No Show and get a full refund.

The orientation includes things like Read moreRead more


Using Social Media to Collaborate and Spread Love

That title is so vague, right? Well if you’re reading, it worked. Next week is Open Education Week, and as part of the Maricopa Millions Steering team, I will be using social media to help share all the love for OER we have in Maricopa. My job is to organize the team to get our word out using the hashtag #openeducationwk. Let’s just say that is an impossible job, but I’ve got this. I have a great plan to make this work. So here’s what we want to happen. It might be similar to what you might want to happen in a class. We have 12 people on the committee. Everyone is responsible for writing at least one tweet and a blog post in one of these five areas:

  1. What is OER? 
  2. How do I find OER? 
  3. Faculty experiences developing OER,
  4. Faculty experiences with using OER, and
  5. FAQs.

We then want to tweet and post all that content using the designated hashtag. We’ll be using the same Twitter handle @MaricopaOER and posting to the same blog:, but having everyone logging in using the same credentials can get quite messy, plus you risk the chance of someone just messing the whole thing up. So I set up a shared Google Doc with all five categories and the names of those responsible for each category and then left a blank spot for each to fill in their contribution. Here’s an example below:

  • Faculty experiences developing OER – Sian Proctor, Alisa Cooper
    • Tweet
    • Blog/Email:
    • Tweet:
    • Blog/Email:

TwufferEveryone knows how to work in a shared document, so this step was a breeze. The team has been adding their tweets and blog posts to the document. Next I started scheduling the tweets and blogs posts to go out in a timely manner next week because no one person has time to be tweeting and blogging all day, every day for a week, right? So we used Twuffer to schedule our tweets to go out 2-3 a day for a week at 10:00 am, noon, and 2pm. “Twuffer allows the Twitter user to compose a list of future tweets, and schedule their release.” We have 14 scheduled so far, and I had my work study student set all this up.

For the blog posts, we are using our WordPress blog, so there’s a feature in there to schedule blog posts. Just cut & paste the content from the shared doc into a blog post, add the appropriate title, tags, and categories and then choose the day and time you want it to go out. We’ll be posting blogs every day at 9:00am and noon if we get enough posts. That’s a hint if anyone from the steering team is reading.

Finally for an added bonus, WordPress gives you the opportunity to automatically tweet out your blog post every time you post. So what that means is when the blog posts go out an additional tweet gets sent too. The tweet automatically sends the Title of the post and a link for people to read it. I had to go in and add the hashtag for open ed week, so those tweets will be a part of our arsenal next week too. Below is an example of what auto tweets from a blog look like. This is from our Write6x6 blog posting to our CTLE twitter account. Our WordPress stats show that many people click through from Twitter to read our blog. That’s because of these auto tweets.

Tweet from Blog

So we’re all set for Open Ed Week next week. If you want to follow us or all the tweets about open education week, click through to Twitter by clicking the links in the previous sentence. Or maybe you can think of a way to set something up like this for your students to tweet and blog together about a special topic in your class.


How Do You Rank in Terms of the Top Ranking Capabilities of Successful Graduates?

successLast Friday, February 19, from 8:30 am to 11:30 am, I attended a presentation/workshop with Dr. Geoff Scott from Western Sydney University. I wasn’t given much information about the presentation other than I was invited along with the other Center for Teaching & Learning Directors, Instructional Designers, and Faculty Professional Growth Directors in the district. In fact, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. Who wants to spend a Friday listening to someone talk about assessment. Not this girl. Turns out Dr. Geoff Scott, Emeritus Professor of Higher Education and Sustainability at Western Sydney University and a National Senior Teaching Fellow with the Australian Office for Learning and Teaching is on a fellowship trip visiting colleges and universities across the world. Maricopa was lucky enough to be his only community college stop. His focus was on “Powerful Assessment in Higher Education” and it was quite entertaining. Of course it helps if the presenter has a funny accent and throws out words like bloody, whackit, popo, and mucking around. For example, he told us we have to detoxify the POPOs on our campuses: The pissed on and passed over. I really got a kick out of listening to him and time flew by. Mostly because he was an excellent storyteller. His delivery of the content came alive and was very informative.

The one thing that stood out for me was a list he shared with us that came out of the research they did. They discovered what the top ranking capabilities were successful graduates. The list made me think about my own successes and how my own capabilities contribute to that success. It also made me think about my colleagues that I work with on a daily bases. It reads like a dream list to me, as not everyone is as capable in all 12 areas, but it is something to aspire too. Have a look for yourself. Where do you stack up? How successful are you in your job?

Top ranking capabilities successful graduates in 9 professions

  1. Being able to organize work and manage time effectively
  2. Wanting to produce as good a job as possible
  3. Being able to set and justify priorities
  4. Being able to remain calm under pressure or when things go wrong
  5. Being willing to face and learn from errors and listen openly to feedback
  6. Being able to identify the core issue from a mass of detail in any situation
  7. Being able to work with senior staff without being intimidated
  8. Being willing to take responsibility for projects and how they turn out
  9. Being able to develop and contribute politely to team-based projects
  10. A willingness to persevere when things are not working gout as anticipated
  11. The ability of empathize and work productively with people from a wide range of backgrounds
  12. Being able to develop and use networks of colleagues to help solve key workplace problems

My Professional Development is Important to Me. What About You?


Maybe I should take a Photoshop class.

I’m a busy person. We’re all busy, but being the Faculty Director of the Center for Teaching, Learning & Engagement has really challenged my perception of what is really busy. But no matter how busy I am, one thing is always constant; I always have time for professional development. I’ve participated in pretty much everything Maricopa has offered us. MIL – Done. MET – Done. MSI – Done. Sabbatical – Done. Learning Grant – Done. Multiple times. Summer Projects – Done. Diversity Infusion Program – Done. What ever dollar amount district makes available for us to travel – I spend every dollar. Every year.

Learning is my passion, as I demonstrated in my Ignite GCC talk last semester. It’s just something I can’t turn off. I want to learn new things. Every day! So I always have time for professional development. Which is why I’m so surprised that the CTLE doesn’t attract bigger crowds. Isn’t everyone like me? Doesn’t everyone live for professional development? Unfortunately, no. Faculty are busy. They’re either doing their own thing or just can’t find the time. This is unfortunate indeed because we are awesome if I have to say so myself. 🙂

The CTLE team works hard each week to combat this lack of interest in “our” professional development. We offer rewards for blogging, and then debate about the healthiness of these rewards. We throw big events like Ignite GCC and GCC’s Rockin’ New Year! We offer all the latest trends in education as workshops, and to combat the ever present comment, “I can’t make that time,” we offer the “Have it Your Way” form where faculty and staff can choose their professional development AND when it is offered. Just for you.

So this might sound like I’m about to complain, but I’m not. Yes, I would love to see every single person on this campus come through the CTLE for professional development (actually that would be quite overwhelming), but the reality of this is, that’s not going to happen, no matter what we do to get them here. And I’m okay with that because the people who do come, and who do participate and engage with us, are the most awesome people I’ve ever worked with. They make it all worthwhile knowing that we were able to help fuel their own passion for learning. So I hope you all keep coming.


Write 6×6 Round Two Started Feb. 1st

write6x6I’m excited to be blogging again with my colleagues at GCC as part of the Write 6×6 Challenge. We had such success with our inaugural challenge last spring, so I was a bit nervous that no one would sign up for round 2 a year later. Luckily I will not be the only one blogging. We have 20 faculty, staff and administrators signed up! Yay! We even got the president blogging again.

In week one we are blogging about how we make a difference, although everyone is free to write about what ever. I’ve learned that most people just want to be told what to write about. Funny how faculty and others are just like our students in that regard. I tend to like to reflect on things in general and then write about what stands out the most. That’s a real challenge when you have a ton of stuff going on. Nothing tends to stand out, yet everything weighs heavy on my mind.

Sometimes I feel like I need a kick to help get me started on things, and that’s how I feel I’m making a difference at GCC. I’m providing the kick that others need to get started. We all have great ideas to either work on or share, and everyday in the CTLE we work to find ways to help faculty and staff hone those skills to develop their ideas or to just share them with others. We challenge them daily to learn new things, get involved, experiment and share where otherwise they would not feel challenged to do so or feel they don’t have the opportunity. If faculty and staff want to be challenged and want to be engaged, we’re here to make a difference.


Converting Files from PDF to Word for Power of Process

There’s a great feature in McGraw-Hill’s Connect Composition called Power of Process. “Power of Process guides students through performance-based assessment activities that require them to apply active reading and writing strategies while demonstrating critical thinking and analysis of a reading selection with their own writing.” It’s truly a great tool for teaching students to critically read and annotate research articles for research papers. The only problem is the program only accepts doc and docx files. The way my assignment works is students do research and then upload the articles they find into the Connect Composition Power of Process assignment. The first assignment is a web search assignment, so most students find web articles, but the second assignment is a periodical database search and many of those articles are PDF files. In both cases students must turn the content they find into a Word document.

toepubThe first is easy, as student simply cut and paste the web content in a word processing program of their choice and export as a doc or docx file. Done. I don’t even have to tell them how to do that, but with the PDF files, many students are stumped. One tool that I’ve found to help with this is To ePub. To ePub allows you to convert PDF and other types of documents to a variety of ebook formats, but it also works the other way. It converts PDF to doc, docx, text, image, and png. It also allows you to combine multiple PDF files into one.  It does the job.

If you find yourself in need of a Word document instead of the PDF file, check out To ePub.


FEP 2015: Self-Examination of Three Required Areas & Two Elected Areas

It’s FEP time again. Every 3 years and 2014-2015 is my turn again. For my FEP this year I chose to use a portfolio again as means of assessment for each of the “REQUIRED,”  “ELECTIVE,” and “RELATED” areas that are evaluated. My professional blog: serves as my portfolio and links to all the relevant parts are listed below in the FEP description. Enjoy.

To complete an FEP each faculty member must engage in a self-examination of “THREE REQUIRED AREAS”:

  • TEACHING (OR OTHER PRIMARY DUTIES).  For example, instructional or service delivery, content expertise, classroom or program management, instruction/program design. This year as faculty director of the CTLE, I decided to focus on service delivery.
  • COURSE OR PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT/REVISION.  For example, a review of syllabi, tests, and course or program content, including competencies and objectives. I decided to design of a new online OER course for ENH114, African American Literature.

In addition to an assessment of these “3 REQUIRED AREAS” (RFP Section , “AT LEAST TWO ELECTED AREAS” (RFP Section, and other “RELATED AREAS” (REP Section  may also be selected by the faculty member to review, in order to bring into better focus their full professional involvements at the college or within the District.  Examples include program coordination, research projects, department/division chair responsibilities, student activities-advising/mentoring, professional involvement in the community, professional growth, involvement/projects, professional interaction with colleagues, etc.

As a means of designing an FEP that is flexible enough to respect the broad diversity of the faculty role, a faculty member developing and implementing the plan should select ways of examining his/her performance that will most effectively describe his/her:  current performance, future goals and actions needed to achieve them, accomplishments in the professional areas to be examined, etc.  These may include different means of assessment for each of the“REQUIRED,”  “ELECTIVE,” and “RELATED” areas that are evaluated.  Examples of different means include checklists, observations, student evaluation instruments (which can be customized), student skill inventories, video assessments, portfolios, written summaries, conferences, etc.


The Pressure is on for English Teachers

freshmancompI teach English at GCC. Technically I teach Freshman Composition, but we say English when asked what we teach. Composition is writing. This is a very interesting considering I majored in English Literature. You know: Beowulf, Shakespeare, Austen, Joyce and Lawrence. I was never taught to write beyond ENG101 and ENG102 in undergrad, but I was expected to do it in every literature class I took. I eventually graduated with a degree in English Literature. So what kind of job does one get with a degree in English Literature? Education or teaching is the number one option. So here I am, teaching English at GCC.

What you can garner from that short story is that most college students get very few opportunities to learn how to write, even when you are studying to be an English teacher. I eventually earned a masters degree in education where I learned to teach writing, but composition classes prior to that were minimal. That is why ENG101 and ENG102 for our students is so crucial. For most it will be their only opportunity to learn to write for their college careers and life in general. Those important skills they learn in Freshman Composition include:

  • Written and other communication skills
  • Understanding complex ideas and theories
  • Research

So the pressure is on for English teachers – ENG101 and ENG102 teachers. These are important skills that go beyond just writing an essay. We’re trying to teach students to think critically, read critically, research critically, and then write. That’s what makes Freshman Composition challenging for students. For the most part, students know how to write or they should considering they just spend four years in high school learning how to do it. But college writing is different. There’s more at stake considering this may be students only chance to learn these skills. Yet many students don’t see the importance of these two courses. They take it for granted.

As I sit here reflecting and writing, I’m all that more thankful for the English teachers I had at Phoenix College and Yavapai College. Because with out that foundation those instructors instilled in me, I really don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing today. And I don’t just mean teaching English. I mean blogging and writing all over the internet in social media sites, writing emails to my colleagues, and writing in my profession. I’m thankful I have the skills, written and other communication skills, critical thinking skills, and research skills, to do my job and do it well.


Week 3 Stats for Write6x6

We have had continued success with Write6x6 at Glendale Community College. In our third week we were able to produce another set of meaningful, inspiring, enlightening pieces of writing – 18 total for week 3. We slipped a bit in number of posts, but the quality is still high. This week we wrote about professional development, fitness, student success and two administrators wrote about being a student then and now. Good stuff, and I expect a few more will come in over the weekend for Week 3.

ParticipantsWe now have a total of 65 posts in only three weeks from 25 participants. We represent administration (8), faculty (10), adjunct (4), student services (3), administrative/business services (3) and other (2). Thirty total signed up, but 5 have not posted yet or are part of a team. For instance, Dean of Strategy, Planning and Accountability (SPA), Alka Arora Singh, has not posted, but her team has contributed 3 awesome posts about our student demographics and internships for students in their department. I’m a big fan of the team approach. We also have a joint post this week from two faculty who team teach, so 1 post for 2 people. Again team work is awesome.

Twitter ShotWe are all unique in who we are and what we do on our campus, and sharing what we do, how we feel, how we make a difference and what we do for student success is the best professional development anyone can ask for. I look forward to each post each week and do my best to get others in the education community to read our blog. Just yesterday while at the Wired & Inspired conference in Vegas, I crashed Todd Conaway’s session on his 9x9x25 Challenge at the #eLearning2015 conference across the street. He was presenting to an audience of about 23 on his awesome idea to get faculty blogging at his college. This is the idea we stole borrowed for Write6x6. What’s really cool about this is other colleges across the country are also using Todd’s idea on their campuses. We have various renditions of it:

It was fun listening to Todd, Dr. Karly Way, a Yavapai instructor, and Skyped in guest Mark Dulong from NMC talk about their projects. Thanks for inviting me to tag along Todd. Be sure to check out their blogs and read posts from their faculty and staff. And for a little extra entertainment, check out NMC’s video about their 4x4x16 Challenge in Michigan. You’ll be glad you live in Arizona after watching the opening scene.


Everything I Know I Learned from Reading Blogs

Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, but if I’d said, “Most everything I know about teaching with technology and technology in general I’ve learned from reading blogs,” that would have been too long a title for this post. Either way, the point is blogging is huge, and I’m so excited to have 32 people from GCC blogging on Except we’re not calling it blogging because that complicates things. People know how to write, but many don’t know how to blog. And that fact alone prohibits many from sharing their expertise with the world. So we’re writing, not blogging.

We learn so much from each other, yet we rarely talk to each other. This is often the case on a busy campus or workplace. I’ve worked at GCC for 6 years now, and I have to admit, I don’t know half the people whose writing I am now reading each week. But I’ll know them better after these 6 weeks are over. I’m already starting to feel a connection with many and learning lots of cool things. But that’s normal for me – Reading blogs, engaging with an online community, Tweeting.

I’ve had this blog, for about 9 years, but I started blogging back in August of 2006. I had a Blogger blog back then that still sits untouched with my early writings. The interesting thing about that first blog is my first blog post ever was a post I wrote about my first day at GCC on August 13, 2006. I didn’t even work here permanently then. I was doing a semester long transfer with Nancy Siefer that fall. She was me at SMCC, where I was a full-time faculty member for, at that time, 6 years, and I was her here at GCC. I still think that was a brilliant move on our part to finagle that trade because look where I am now – at GCC for the past 6 years. Anyway, enough about me. Let’s get back to me and blogging. 🙂

Throughout the years blogging has not only been a way for me to share what I’ve learned about teaching with technology, but it’s been my primary way to learn about what others are doing in that same realm. I read over 159 blogs! Yes, 159. Seems impossible, but I’m only reading the good stuff. Using a feedreader like allows me to subscribe to many different blogs, collate them into a single space, and organize them by topic, making it easier to skim through and read what I want. Click the image to see a bigger picture of what that looks like.


I can honestly say I’ve learned more about teaching and learning, technology and instructional design from my online reading than I did in my doctoral program in instructional technology and distance education. That’s not a crack on my education. It’s a reality that once you graduate, your education stops. Let that sink in. But the world and your field doesn’t stop. In order to keep up, we all have to keep educating ourselves. I could never do this job, Faculty Director of the Center for Teaching, Learning & Engagement based on my degree I earned back in 2006. See the correlation now? Once my degree was complete, I started blogging AND reading to keep the education going. And now I’ve been able to move to a new position and have the knowledge and skills I need to do it well (well, I least I think I do it well).

I’m hoping that our professional development activity at GCC will inspire others to keep the education going and not only keep blogging, but also keep reading and educating themselves to be better educators, administrators, managers, support staff or better at whatever it is they may do at GCC.

For you educators, check out a few of my favorite blogs: