eCoaching Tip 84 Have You Thought of Trying This? And Course Beginnings

January 12, 2011

eCoaching Tip 84 Have You Thought of Trying This? And Course Beginnings

Innovative Ideas and Archived Tip 62 Course Beginnings— Launch with Confidence and a Holiday Picture

With courses beginning so soon after the holiday, it’s sometimes difficult to remember all the practices for launching a course well and enjoy getting to know your students. It can also be challenging finding time to try a new idea or two with our learners.

So, this tip does two things. It starts with three short stories of innovative uses of technology for learning and then repeats Tip 62 on course beginnings from two years ago. Enjoy, and share your thoughts as you can.

1. Have You Tried VoiceThread yet?

Michael Arnzen, a professor of English at Seaton Hall University in New Jersey writes a lively blog on the philosophy of teaching. He recently posted a summary of how he used VoiceThread ( to “bookend” his online MFA literature course in Writing Popular Fiction.

For a launching activity, he used VoiceThread to do an audio/graphical overview of the course using the cover art of some of the fiction studied in the course. Learners then responded and commented using their voices and texts around the cover art. As he noted enthusiastically, it was a great way to get the class into “an analytical mode right away, while also cultivating interpersonal bonds via virtual discussion.” He closed the course with a VoiceThread session as well, using five slides with focused questions such as “Which books this term taught you the most about the craft of writing?” and “What knowledge did you most glean from your classmates?”

For a quick intro to VoiceThread, see this posting by Arnzen about how Michelle Pacansky-Brock is using VoiceThread in an Art History class. As you may recall from previous tips, VoiceThread is a tool that makes it easy to have a conversation around media, using audio, video, or text.

For other ideas on how faculty are using VoiceThread, check out the white paper from Penn Stateon how this tool is being used in a course in Roman archaeology with student group projects. And here is a link to a google doc’s slideshow called Seventeen Interesting Ways to Use VoiceThread in The Classroom that is sure to solicit a “Hmm, that’s really interesting” or “Wow” comment from you.

2. Have You Tried “Crowd-Sourcing” as a Way to Develop Your Quizzes

Many tips have suggested using automated quizzes as an easy, useful, almost painless way to have learners practice automatic knowledge of key discipline data elements. Many textbooks offer test banks and most course management systems offer automated scoring, tracking of learner progress.

Yet it still can be a fair amount of work to develop the test questions and responses. A recent posting (12-10-2010) in the ProfHacker online community blog by Jason Jones, an associate professor of English at Central Connecticut State University and one of the editors of the blog, describes how he has his students in wiki-based courses develop exam questions. The learners work together to identify passages for identification, short-answer questions and essays. As an added, sometimes underwhelming benefit, the questions that students develop often “genuinely reflect” the class’s thinking.

Another faculty member who teaches history to junior and senior history majors shared his crowd-sourcing experience with students generating essay questions and identifying important terms. He noted that he often found himself editing the essay questions to help students focus not just on “what happened” but more importantly, “why something happened or what changed and the consequencesof that change.”

3. Are You Using Experts?

It’s not too early to think about how external experts might spice up your course. A recent article (11-19-2010) from the Chronicle of Higher Education describes a popular Harvard undergraduate food science course,Science and Cooking: From haute cuisine to Soft-Matter Science,that uses video lectures by well-known chefs as part of their weekly gatherings. Students enjoy getting to know the chefs, while also learning equations for viscosity, elasticity and diffusion. The chefs themselves enjoy the process as they learn more about the chemistry behind cooking as well. For ideas on how to invite and have experts participate in your course, check out an earlierTip #46.

For now, here is the reminder tip on course beginnings. A couple of my holiday pictures are at the end. I look forward to perhaps seeing some of your holiday pictures too.

 Tip 62 Course Beginnings Checklist — Launch with Confidence and a Holiday Picture

All courses have a natural cycle of beginnings, middles and endings. Beginning times are filled with excitement, anticipation, hope and sometime, a little anxiety. You and your students wonder about how the group of learners will work together and what the learners’ hopes for the course are.

I often find that checklists are useful reminders for professionals. Pilots, doctors, engineers and parents use them to make certain that we don’t assume that we have everything in order. So here is a six-item checklist about what it is good to do in course beginnings. More detail on the items in this checklist is in an earlier Tip 21 – Five Simple Reminders about Course Beginnings)

Doing these six practices in your course beginnings helps to ensure that teaching and learning experiences are more enjoyable for both you and your students. These practices lay the groundwork for an effective and fun course launch and a good launch pad for your students work on accomplishing their performance goals.

See if you can say “yes” to each of these reminders. If you are all set on these six items, be sure to also check out the additional ideas on refreshing your course in the second half of this tip.

Six-Item Checklist

  1. Let students get to know you! Do you have a “rich” faculty bio? ____

Have you incorporated ways to “make yourself known” to your students? Students love stories about their faculty, especially stories that show what you do as a friend or family person. Sharing a picture of what you did or didn’t do over holiday breaks can encourage them to do the same. Of course, I like to encourage you to have a standard faculty photo in your Faculty Information section. This balances your professional life with a social presence.

  1. The second item is to be sure to use the Announcement tool to welcome your students. ____

Announcements in most course management systems is the message that students will see first on entering their “online classroom” and is a great place to post a course welcome and remind them of their first set of course actions. Some of these first actions will be to review the course schedule, the course syllabus and post a getting acquainted message.

You may also want to check out the possibility of posting an announcement with an audio greeting. Hearing your voice creates a sense of real presence. More personality comes through.

  1. The third item in the checklist is creating a new “Getting Acquainted” thread in your “Pre-Week and Introductions” forum. ____

Not only do students want to know you; they also want to know something about their fellow students and to share a little about themselves. Getting acquainted posts can be an opportunity for you as well. Knowing more about your students helps you create spaces or profiles in your own head and on paper when learners post something personal or memorable about themselves. Suggest that they share something simple, such as a “personal favorite” type of technology, place, or beverage, or a “personal best” or personal worst. I find something as simple as a picture invaluable.

  1. The fourth item has to do with your course presence schedule. Do you have plans to “be” at your course every day for the first two weeks? ____

Your teaching and social presence is always important and it is doubly critical in the first few days of a course. In real estate it is location, location, location. In online learning it is presence, presence and more presence.

  1. The fifth item involves your syllabus. Do you have your syllabus complete with schedule, assignments and required resources? ____

As you know, online students are super-sensitive to requirements, schedules and communication processes. Be sure that your course requirements are clear as to how many hours a week that you expect learners to devote to course assignments and requirements. A range of hours such as 4 to 6 or 6 to 8 hours is fine. If you plan on holding synchronous sessions, a backup plan for time conflicts is a must. Archiving sessions, holding duplicate sessions, or making synchronous sessions optional are ways to handle the likelihood of schedule conflicts.

Also, be sure to have your requirements and readings clearly laid out for each week of your course.

  1. The sixth and last item on the checklist suggests a discussion forum or an assignment focusing on the course performance goals. Do you have this ready? ____

Adults who are juggling work and learning find it very helpful to personalize and customize a course to their professional needs and goals. Yet students don’t always mentally process the stated performance goals and knowledge objectives of a course. Here are two strategies that can help students connect more personally to the stated course performance goals.

  • Include a short assignment in the first week that asks the learners to review the performance goals for the course, and then apply these performance goals to their own professional and personal goals. Doing this encourages your students to actually process the goals for their own purposes. Their statements also shed light on what each learner’s purpose might be and what the learner already knows.
  • Another useful strategy is to identify an important news item relevant to the course content and create a discussion forum for students to comment on that news item. This immediately creates a shared content experience where students connect with the relevancy of the course content. More about this technique of “story referencing” is in the tip from last fall about personalizing learning:Tip 60 (#2 Fall 2008) Personalizing Learning Content so that Students Grow with the Course Experiences

Other Resource Reminders

Here are a couple of reminder links.

Holiday Pictures

Caroline (5) and Andrew (3) on Nature Walk after Christmas

Pink Fences Just before Sunset on an island in Florida


E-Coaching Tip 21. (2006, Fall). Five simple reminders about course beginnings.

ProfHacker Online Blog. (2010). G. H. Williams & J. B. Jones (Eds.), Chronicle of Higher Education. blog with tips, tutorials, and commentary on pedagogy, productivity, and technology in higher education, Monday through Friday.

Glenn, D. (2010). Cook up a science course, and students will devour the lessons.Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved January 12, 2011 from

Note: These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2016  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by

Copyright by Judith V. Boettcher