That’s a pretty relevant question. It is Thursday, and the To-Do list is fairly long. So why not shirk all responsibility for 30 minutes or so and blog about happy hour? Sounds good to me. Happy hour is the obvious choice for this week’s writing prompt for Write6x6: Building Relationships. How do you build relationships with faculty, staff, and students on campus? How important are these relationships to you?
First, I’m going to point out the obvious. There will be no happy hour with students, but everyone else is fair game. It’s the perfect way to build relationships. When I left South Mountain Community College 8 years ago, one of the pluses on my Pro/Con list for leaving the college was building relationships and community. I have some wonderful friends at SMCC and built some long lasting relationships, but not many of those relationships went beyond the boundaries of the college. I just felt like if I was going to spend 6 hours a day with people, I should be friends with those people outside those boundaries – at least some of them. So I left. I felt like a bigger campus, more people would open up those doors. And I was right. I went from having 6 faculty in my department to 40. There might have been more at SMCC if I counted the Reading faculty, but I didn’t really know of any of them. But you get the idea.
Everyone is busy, and teaching schedules can be chaotic. It’s difficult to build relationships when you never see the people you work with. So I made it a habit of walking the halls and spending time in my office beyond the required 1 hour office hour, just so I could connect with my peeps. After a while, I quickly learned that I was never going to get much work done when I was in the halls of 05. I spent my time there popping into offices, talking with colleagues, answering questions and generally just chilling. It was a great trade off. Not everyone agrees with that sentiment, as there were plenty of closed doors in the hallways.
But there are also many happy hours. Meeting up off campus allows for people to feel free, be more relaxed, and open up a bit more about how things on the job are really going. It gives us all a chance to problem solve together and brainstorm ideas. But it also builds stronger relationships. I work with a bunch of awesome people who travel to conferences for professional development together, submit proposals for grants together, work on projects together, and of course, attend many happy hours, dinners and gatherings in our own homes together. We’re just one big kumbaya song.
Tomorrow marks my 8th Week of Accountability at GCC, once every semester for four years. We all joke that it’s the only week we have to be accountable all semester, but that’s certainly not true. We’re professionals and we do our job all year round. But the college doesn’t waste time making sure we are accountable on this first week of the semester. GCC has a whole list of scheduled events and meetings all week. I get tired just looking at it.
Week of Accountability is the week before the semester starts, and it is a week for instructors to prepare for the upcoming semester. However, if you wait until this week to get work done, you’re in trouble. Most of the first day, Monday is spent in an all employee meeting (Spring Convocation). In my four years at GCC, this has been a mixed bag of activity. We’ve had everything from dancing, musical chairs, strange motivational speakers to meaningful and sometimes meaningless information dumps. We never know what to expect, but I’d have to say it never lacks for entertainment. Read more
Working on campus the last few weeks has been nearly impossible. Forget 6 hours of accountability. It’s not happening. Not on campus at least. Here’s what’s happening instead. Nothing. Lots of meetings for HLC. More nothing. Go home. Work. Yep, I literally show up to campus to make an appearance. I can’t get anything done because the network is slower than (fill in with appropriate simile). Last week we got this message from IT:
The GCC OIT networking team has been working diligently to try to resolve the Internet connectivity issues we’ve all been experiencing. In some critical applications, this has resulted in connections being “dropped” entirely. Just as frustrating has been the overall slowness of those systems that are working.
At this point, we basically have two choices: 1) live with the situation the way it is, or 2) deal with some slowness during peak times but keep as much application integrity as possible. We have decided to go with option 2 so that key applications like Blackboard, AccuPlacer, and others, are able to run without “timing out”.
Those were our only two choices? I found that odd. Am I the only one who is finding it nearly impossible to do my job while on campus? I can’t grade anything. I can’t create anything. Basically I can’t teach. I can’t even goof off and watch YouTube videos, not that that’s what I would want to do, but hey, it was a district email that sent the links. 😉
So yesterday we got an update to the system and supposedly the problem has been fixed. The email states:
With the assistance of Tempe support services, a firewall bottleneck was isolated and removed. Network performance monitoring confirms the effectiveness of the change.
We wish to thank our GCC community for your feedback during this trying time. Your comments helped our technical staff identify the root issue.
Is it any better. No, not really. It still takes forever to load pages. But I’m not really complaining. I like working from home better, and I’m getting good at composing quick tweets about nothing important while I wait for my pages to load. It’s like I’m encouraged to goof off and to fill my idle time while sitting here staring at my browser window. I also love having an actual excuse for why I didn’t get those essays graded sooner. And some times we just need a mental break from non-stop work, work, work. So it’s all good that our network stinks. I’m not mad at ya! In fact, I was able to write this post in between page loads as I try to grade journal posts for my ENG102 class. Now I’m off to help faculty create hybrid courses – not on campus obviously. We even have an excuse to meet up at the local pub! W00t!
Last week our eCourses Faculty Facilitator sent out an announcement about a change in the Faculty Evaluation Rubric. The jest of the announcement was that online faculty are now expected to provide synchronous “office hours” in addition to the already required asynchronous communication that may already be provided. Below is an excerpt from the message:
I am sending this email to notify you of a change that has been made to the eCourses Faculty Evaluation Rubric. The modifications were discussed and approved by the eCourses Committee to be in place for Fall ’12. With technology advancements, especially in the area of communication tools, the committee agreed that it was within reason for faculty to be available online (or by phone) to meet with individuals or groups of students in a synchronous setting where real-time discussions could take place. This extends the current asynchronous use of announcements, discussion boards and emails for communication purposes (Lea Neibarger).
I think this is a good move and am surprised that most have not already implemented something to this effect already. As full time faculty, I’m required “to hold a minimum of five (5) scheduled academic support hours reflective of instructors’ teaching schedules;” (RFP). I teach all online and hybrid courses, so I have online office hours for my students. Because most of my students are working adults, I try to have a few hours in the morning and a few in the evening each night. And most of the time in between I’m pretty accessible to my students via email, phone call or text. I permit this because it is easy for me to do and manage. It’s not like I have to sit in my office at school to be accommodating to my students. With technology today, I can spare a few extra hours by simply having my cell phone with me during the scheduled time.
This might seem overwhelming to some, as I’ve heard numerous, “What should I dos?” since the message went out. It’s not as difficult as you might think, especially if you stick to the one hour guideline in the RFP, but I hope you will find that it’s easy enough to include a few more hours each week. Lea even points out in the message:
This does not mean faculty must “be on call 24/7”, but rather have a dedicated time which is announced to students, similar to or in coincidence with face-to-face office hours or have a process where students can ask questions interactively on an as needed basis. This could include office hours where faculty have instant messaging, online conferencing, chat or even a Skype window open and respond immediately to student questions.
What follows is a list of tools I presently use, have used in the past, and plan to use in the future. Hopefully you can find something that works well for you and your students as well.
First, next fall when we officially go live with Canvas (yes, I’m being very optimistic), you will have a built in tool to accommodate your online office hours. The tool is called Tinychat – http://tinychat.com/ You can set up your hour time slot and post it on your syllabus letting students know you will be available live to answer questions and discuss anything related to your course. At the designated time, you will need to log into Canvas, go to the Chat tab, and start up a chat session. You can broadcast video or audio, so your students can see or hear you, or you can just use text chat. There is also a whiteboard built in so you can write out information if needed, and you can share a YouTube video if there is a need for that. There is also a way to have private conversations with individual students within the group chat. It’s probably all you would need if you plan to offer an hour a day while sitting in your office each day.
But if you’re like me, and you can’t stand sitting in your office, you can set up some more mobile options for synchronous office hours. Presently I use Google Voice. Basically GV is a free phone number you get from Google that becomes your class number. Students can call or text you on this number, and you can control where and when the number rings. You can set up a window of time where your GV number rings/texts to your cell phone or rings your office phone. When the GV number is not set up to ring to a specific phone, it goes straight to your Google Voice inbox. It’s like an email inbox for phone calls and texts. They are stored up and saved for when you are ready to deal with them. You can set it up to send you an email or text with the message if you like as well. Using GV allows for me to permit my students to call me pretty much all day, but when I don’t want to be bothered, I switch it from sending calls/texts to my cell phone and let them go directly to Voice/Text inbox. Below is an example of a quick text communication with a student that happened on my phone, but was saved in my GV inbox. I have a record of all communications with GV.
Another mobile option is to use Instant Message, but as you all know, there are quite a few options out there. There is AIM, GTalk, MSN, Yahoo!, ICQ, and even Facebook and MySpace have their own IM programs.
You can see the problem here; not every student will be on the same program. In order for you to use this effectively, you’ll need to sign up for an account on several. I would go with at least the four major ones. Then you can use a generic IM – All in One client, like Trillian – http://www.trillian.im or Meebo – https://www.meebo.com/messenger What these two clients will do for you is give you an easy way to log into all four or more IM clients using one log in. So you open up Meebo and login. See photo to the right. You are now available to chat on AIM, GTalk, MSN and Yahoo! Students then can use whatever client they like without having to sign up for a new one. And both Trillian and Meebo have mobile apps, so you can log on on your phone and be available for IM chat wherever you are. I just list all my IM usernames on my syllabus, and students can decide for themselves if they want to go that route. They don’t need Meebo to IM with you. Only you need it. They will use whatever client they already use. I only get about 2-3 IMers these days. Most prefer texting. One added bonus to Meebo is you can embed the chat window into your current LMS and students can chat with you from that window without having an account on any IM client.
One final honorable mention is Google+ Hangout – http://plus.google.com/hangouts
Google+ Hangouts with extras offers a sneak preview of new Hangouts features. It’s available for a limited time, so it’s not clear what the long term availability will be. Also Maricopa has yet to switch on this tool in our student Google Apps accounts. Please! But I’m using this with students now using just regular Gmail accounts. They are blogging and “hanging out” as part of the class, but Google+ Hangouts can be used for synchronous communication as well. It makes it easy for students to start a video or audio chat with you or you can schedule a hangout with extras. The extras include: Named hangouts, Shared notes and sketchpad, Google Docs integration and Screensharing. Imagine hanging out with a student who wants to go over an essay with you. You can share a Google Doc with the students essay in it in the hangout, meaning everyone present can view the document, see what you mark on it, and hear what you have to say about in real time. Below you can see Leo is hangout with 10 people (limit) who are all on webcam and are text chatting to the left. It’s similar to Skype, but it’s free. Skype charges for group video chat.
Last week I was asked to present at the Future Educators Association (FEA) State Conference at Grand Canyon University (March 1-2, 2012). I’ve been asked in the past to do workshops for students, adjunct faculty and residential faculty, and I always take the opportunity to teach technology skills. So this opportunity was no different. The focus of the 45 minutes session which I presented with my colleague Sue Glascoe, MCC math faculty, was our three favorite tools. I use many software tools just to help me organize and manage my online teaching life. So this workshop focused on my 3 most valuable tools that help me do just that. I demonstrated how to use Google Apps, including Gmail, to create forms, contact groups and filters for classes to create a well managed teaching environment. A second tool that I shared was Google Voice, a tool that allows for me to give students a phone number where they can both call and send text messages and allow for me to manage who, what, when, where, and how I receive those messages. The last tool I covered was audio podcasting tools for reminders and brief updates for classes using AudioBoo and iPadio. My workshop demo page is located on my wiki: http://drcoop.pbworks.com/w/page/27251733/3tools
I was surprised that there were only two technology sessions during the conference, but I guess that’s better than none. We did our session three times, so we touched a good number of future teachers. I had a great time presenting with Sue, and we both know that being examples and modeling how we teach with technology will fuel future teachers to be creative and step outside the box and try new things in the classroom.
Although this is outside my 6 hours of accountability for my Friday, I think my time was well spent and more valuable than anything I could have done while on campus sitting in my office.
It’s time to address the usual greeting I get when my co-workers in the English department see me in the 05 Building on campus. “Hey! What are you doing here?” I hear it just about every day. I don’t get this response elsewhere on campus because I have a pretty good track record for meeting my college obligations. If there’s a committee meeting, I’m there. But I don’t spend much time in one spot, and my office doesn’t get much use. Well, not the 6-8 hours a day use that some offices get. I’m not into sitting anywhere for too long. I’m not learning anything new sitting in my office, so I like to get out and do stuff. I would rather be on a hiring committee than sit in my office and do nothing, but don’t tell too many people that. I’ve been at GCC for only 3 years, and I’ve already been on four hiring committees. Crazy.
My point is there is so much to do and learn and so many people to talk to and learn from that if you limit yourself to one small space on campus or the district for that matter, you’re missing out on many opportunities to make a difference for your students, the college and the district. “A rolling stone grows no moss.” Although I like the analogy of a snowball that is rolled around in the snow to make the base of a snowman better. That’s me, always moving and learning and teaching and sharing and growing. My knowledge and experience grows by interacting with as many people, projects and ideas as possible.
Here’s a brief snapshot of all that I’m involved in currently in and outside of Maricopa. I currently serve as an assistant chair/eCourses coordinator for the English Department and work with faculty to create and/or improve their online/hybrid courses. I also evaluate all online/hybrid instructors and courses in the English department. I serve on the eCourse Committee and the CTLE Advisory Committee on campus. As part of the duties of this last committee, I’m currently serving on a hiring committee to hire a Coordinator of Technology Training for the CTLE. For eCourses, I just volunteered to help create an eCourses Student Orientation (what was I thinking?).
I serve on a district committee, Academic Technology Alliance (ATA), that meets monthly in addition to smaller subcommittee activities. The main objective of the ATA is to identify and strategically implement effective learning technologies across all ten colleges in the district. I’m on a subcommittee looking at Reusable Learning Object creation tools, like Softchalk. I’m a Quality Matters certified reviewer and conduct QM reviews on hybrid and online courses in the district. I’m currently reviewing a Lit class at SCC. I’m also working on a district learning grant that helps online and hybrid instructors infuse Challenged Based Learning modules into the freshman composition curriculum. I’m a member of the Teaching & Learning with Technology Conference Planning Team currently planning the conference for this May. In addition, I work with the National Center for Teacher Education (NCTE) at the district as a technology trainer on two grants: The Achieving Technological Literacy in Arizona for Students and Teachers (ATLAST) and Student and Teacher Technology Transformation Teams (ST4).
Outside the district, I serve on the advisory group for the ELI 7 Things publication and conduct webinars and in person workshops on Blended Course Design, Social Media and Cloud Based Technologies for Academic Impressions.
Whew, I’m tired just from typing all that. Sometimes I feel like I need a secretary to keep it all straight, but I seem to manage. I’d rather be busy than bored. So when my colleagues in the English department jokingly greet me with “Hey! What are you doing here?” I just grin and say “I work here,” but truth be told I’m there to hang out with them. I work with an awesome group of teachers, and I love learning from and collaborating with them too. I never have trouble meeting my six hours of accountability, I just have a difficult time doing it in one spot.
Today was a typical Monday for an online teacher, at least typical in the sense of how I like to have my Mondays go. I literally sat at my home office desk for 11 hours straight, and I got so much done. I wouldn’t want to spend every day like this, but today was a day that clearly defined what online teaching is all about. There are many important elements that need to be managed to have a successful online class. Here are a few of the important things that need to accomplished.
- Weekly podcasts – Having an audio and/or video announcement at the start of each week to get students started with the week’s work. You can make connections in the readings and assignments, clarify current readings and assignments, and personalize the course. Using audio and video is important to me because it gives the course a face and a voice. And as Jill Schiefelbeing (@impromptuguru) would say, it gives the online class a “human touch.”
- Grading – feedback is a powerful motivator. “Extrinsic motivation is motivation to perform and succeed for the sake of accomplishing a specific result or outcome. Students who are very grade-oriented are extrinsically motivated” (Kirk, 2012). I feel it’s very motivating for students to grade their work in a timely manner, but also it’s important to give feedback on the work. This can be the most challenging part of teaching. Most of today was spent grading, writing feedback, and challenging students to do more. I have some great tools to help with that. I’m using Cengage’s InSite with TurnItIn tools and rubrics, McGraw-Hill’s new Connect Composition 2.0 with a great diagnostic, personalized learning plans and online handbook, and Canvas LMS with their rubrics. All these tools make keeping up with the grading a lot easier than in past semesters.
- Interactions – Often the missing part in online classes is student/student and student/teacher interactions. Last week I invited students to call and talk through research proposals with me if they didn’t have their proposals approved yet. I got four calls today and four students approved. Two other students called to work through problems they were having with the technology. I also spent some time reading and adding comments in the discussion forums in ENG101 and ENH295, but I try not to make that the only interactions students have. Last week’s assignment in ENG101 asked students to share rhetorical terms in a Google Doc to create a glossary for the class. This week I’m encouraging them to go back in and pick their favorite terms based on how well the student explained the function of the term. To pick a term, they have to leave a comment explaining how the poster made the term easy to understand. Today I had to go in an organize the document to make sure it was ready for this activity.
- Mechanics – Even though the site worked when you put it together, it’s always good practice to revisit at the start of each week to make sure everything still works. I like to review each class from the perspective of a student and anticipate areas where students might need extra help. I usually have some students who get started early, and they are usually not shy about pointing out things that are not clear. Today I only had one such issue, where an embedded Google Doc form was not displaying results like I thought it would. I also rewrote a few instructions on a few assignments in Canvas and created a new rubric for an assignment in InSite. Everything is ready to go.
That doesn’t seem like much, but with four online courses and one hybrid, it can take up a good chunk of time. And after 11 hours, I still didn’t get it all done. Tomorrow I will have to find time to create the weekly podcast for ENG102 online and the hybrid online class. Everything else is ready in those courses. It’s the instructor that makes a successful online course. You can’t just build it and expect it to run itself.
One of my favorite things about being a teacher is that I get many opportunities to continue my education. I feel like I’m going to school to learn just like my students. To be successful in your profession continued professional growth is a necessity and should be encouraged. Maricopa does a good job of affording us these opportunities. We have learning grants, sabbaticals, travel funds, district dialogue days and technology workshops available. We have faculty developers, instructional designers and technologists on every campus to plan, train and work with faculty. I make it a habit to take advantage of as many opportunities as I can squeeze in.
Today was a great event that I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to participate in for the past 3 years: TechTools at Scottsdale Community College. Each year I volunteer to present, so this year I was on a panel discussion on social media in education. My focus was on using social media in the classroom. We had a pretty good turn out for that session. The best part, however, was getting to listen to Jill Schiefelbein’s keynote presentation: The Human Touch. Jill, online instructor from ASU & CGCC and owner of Impromptu Guru, shared with us different strategies for uniting communication and technology for an added human touch in online classes. Her talk should be required viewing for all online instructors.
I was able to sit in on two other sessions that day: one on Canvas, our new LMS for next fall and another titled Secrets of the Technology Club presented by a virtual Maria Andersen. Both were informative sessions that I’m glad I got a chance to participate in. Five hours went by fast (8:30-1:30pm), but my day of learning didn’t end after this event. Today was also the day for the monthly CyberSalon gathering, and the afternoon’s agenda including different people sharing how they’ve been using Canvas. So after an hour hanging out with colleagues at SCC and grading papers (online office hour), we were off to CyberSalon for 2+ more bonus hours of professional growth. It was truly a great day.
It’s not realistic to think that everyday’s 6 hours of accountability can be like today, but it’s nice to be able to find a balance between teaching and learning. And this is clearly defined in the RFP. So after a week, I’ve managed to meet more than 6 hours of accountability each day and include all 3 areas outlined in the RFP.
Instructional Residential Faculty members are required to meet the thirty (30) hours of professional responsibilities per week.
- to meet all classes as scheduled;
- to hold a minimum of five (5) scheduled academic support hours reflective of instructors’ teaching schedules; and
- to participate in department, division, college, and/or district activities as defined in Section 1.2.20.;
I have a hybrid learning community class on Tuesdays. Yes, you read that right. It’s a learning community with ENG102 and CRE101, and my class is hybrid (Tuesday only). The class meets without me on Thursdays for Critical Reading. So I’m in class from 10-12:45pm on Tuesday. First for my own class, and then for Cindy Ortega’s CRE101 class. I haven’t team taught in many years, although it’s a stretch to call it team teaching. It’s really more collaborative teaching, but it’s working really well. It takes a lot of time to get the coordination down and to see the connections in both classes, but it’s helping to sit in on both classes. I feel like I’m being schooled with all the active learning techniques Cindy whips out each day. You’d be surprised, or not, at how close the two classes are aligned. I’m surprised we don’t have more learning communities like this one.
Cindy and I have scheduled collaboration sessions on Thursdays, but we’ve been doing a little extra touching base on Tuesday mornings before class. I have an office hour from 9-10am, and as anticipated, I don’t get many student visitors (0 so far), so this time doesn’t go to waste. We went over some things for class, and I created a Pop Quiz in Canvas. I wanted to see if the students were doing their scheduled online class activities. Days like Tuesday are easy for accountability. 9-10am office hour, 10-12:45pm in class, and 1-2pm I’m in the Writing Center helping students with writing assignments if they don’t stand me up. I’m still there even when they don’t show up or sign up, which was the case on this Tuesday. By the time I make my way back to my office, check in with a few people, it’s 3pm, and my 6 hours of accountability are fulfilled.
You don’t think I went home do you? Of course not! The people I work with like to talk. I swear I spent an hour trying to convince a colleague that it probably wasn’t appropriate for me to go to the national TESOL conference, especially since I didn’t even know what TESOL stood for. I have to say it was a good sell, but I declined. Since my Monday schedule was off, I still had to make up the two podcasts for my online courses. I whipped out the Week 3 Weekly Podcast for my ENG102 course with a few brief interruptions, mostly people standing in my door with surprised looks on their face, followed by “You’re here. What are you doing here?” Hey! I work here. Well, I’m trying. And I can take a hint.
At 5pm I decided it was time to go home, as I appeared to be “the last man standing.” And it seemed like an appropriate time to leave work. Not sure why, but Tuesday was a cool “8 hours of accountability” none the less. I’ve got an overage of 3.5 hours. I wonder if there is any way to cash in on that on, say Friday. Hmmm….