Structuring a discussion forum in an online course

When creating a discussion board for an online course you do not just create it and hope it gets used. You also do not just put a bunch of boring questions and hope students learn something. You need to plan it out. I am going to highlight several of the things that I use and have found add to my student’s success and course enjoyment.

Help! – A help or questions and answer forum is a great place for students to ask questions. Students can ask questions and other students can respond. This saves me time because if a student answers the question, I may not need to. Additionally, all students in the course get to see all of the responses.

Cool resources – This is a place for my students and I to post articles, websites, blogs, news stories, etc that are relevant to the course. As an instructor I try to post to this forum about 8-10 times throughout the semester. This is a chance for students to also post cool resources they may come across in their research and coursework that may benefit the rest of the class.

Announcements – I post a weekly statement to students in this section. That weekly announcement tells them exactly what is due for the week and includes any course updates. I also send this out as an email. This helps keeps students on track so that they do not feel lost in the course. I find that sending an email and posting to the forum is a must.

Social forum – This is a place where students can post anything – course related or not. This forum usually does not see that much activity however when questions are asked they are usually very important. For instance, students may ask about certifications and such that may not be relevant to my class but are important for all students in my program. Another example might be resume help. Important topics but there may only be 2-3 for a whole semester course.

Introductions – I have all students introduce themselves. I also ask them to post a picture of themselves. This way it puts a face with a name and makes the class more personable. In this introduction I ask them the following: goals, where they live/are from, experience, and ask them to tell us something fun/exciting about themselves. They usually have fun with this.

Discussions – This is where the activities take place. Each week I have students complete activities in my classes and discuss them. I try to stay away from traditional discussion questions as a primary assignment as I find that students feel they are boring. So instead I will ask them to choose a research article and review, create a presentation on a topic, create a table comparing and contrasting, or even create a screencast or video. These activities get at the same type of learning (or deeper) that I would get from discussion questions but are a bit more fun. I try to make a different activity for each week of my course. Students then are usually required to post several times to their classmates.

Flash being replaced with Adobe Animate CC

So the news is out. Flash is being replaced with adobe animate cc. The full adobe announcement can be seen here. What does this mean? It means that Adobe is trying to rebrand Flash. Flash is not going away. Adobe is essentially just renaming it. However, there is more to it than that. Adobe has been working on various HTML5 output tools for the past few years (ie Edge Animate). So when this is released over the next few months, will Edge Animate go away and be merged with Flash? Will Flash actually have good HTML5 output?

Currently instructional designers are using captivate and articulate for most of their development because these tools are easy to use. However, these tools have major limitations. The HTML5 output is OK but even if it was perfect these tools are a little more than animated flash cards. They do an ok job but a serious training developer needs something more powerful with no limits. Currently this involves programming (ie javascript, java, etc), flash (which isnt compatible on mobile devices), or game engine software like unity. If the new version of flash truly can push out HTML5 content that has the power of an object oriented language then it could be a game changer. However, I do not see this happening just yet. All of the tests I have done are far from perfect using what Adobe currently has on the market. I think a big issue is that Adobe Animate really needs to use javascript instead of AS3 for programming but I am not sure this is the direction they are going – instead they push out AS3 content and convert it to javascript. I guess we will find out in the next few months when Animate is released.

iPhone Vs Android: screen utilization

I now have both android and apple phones and I have been comparing the two. Thus far, the biggest difference is how they utilize screen size. You can see how I have highlighted the bottom of the phones in the image below. For some reason apple makes you press a button. This button is a huge pain to press if you are used to just tapping the screen. And its a huge waste of screen space. Android has definitely done a better job of utilizing the screen here and I would imagine apple will follow suit shortly. This might not seem like a big deal but once you get used to tapping the screen you never want to constantly keep pushing that button all day long.

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Professional Presentations

Giving a professional presentation? Look no further than this presentation analysis on the late Steve Jobs. This is a great breakdown and can give anyone a lot of great pointers on make a boring presentation much better.

 

Problem solving and designing

Tonight in my class I will be discussing various ways to design and one of those is called Open Space Technology (Read here for directions on how to conduct OST – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Space_Technology)

OST is a way to empower users/stakeholders to design and solve problems in a fun and safe environment. It generates individual and group creativity. OST is usually done face to face however given that my classes are virtual I have figured out how to do it online. To do it only you need to be able to form groups in a forum or chat room. Otherwise it can run just as would in a live face to face environment. Anyway, this is a great activity for instructional designers, businesses, software developers, etc to engage in.

Do you need a degree in Instructional Design?

I have written about this before but given that we are starting a new school I will reiterate my thoughts: Yes you more than likely need an instructional degree in order to be a good instructional designer.

Can you learn to be an instructional designer without getting a degree? Yes. In fact, you can learn about any subject through libraries, internet, etc. You have been able to do this as long as books have been available to the public. However, would you want a doctor to work on you that didn’t have an MD? and just learned through some internet resources? Sorry but you would not. Instructional design is no different. There is a lot that goes into the design process and being a good designer is not easy. I would never hire someone that was not trained in a very solid ISD program that taught them how to be an instructional designer and provided them experiences to apply it.

So where does the notion that you do not need an ISD degree come from? Most often, bad designers. I am sorry to say that but usually when someone says this they either do not have the degree or came from a bad program. Choosing a good instructional design program taught by qualified instructors is a whole other issue. But usually when I find these people that do not believe in the ISD degree and that you can learn ‘on the job’ I can ask them anywhere from 3-5 questions about design, that are vital to design, and they do not know any of the answers – why? Because they themselves are usually not good designers because they do not know how to really do instructional design. Because if they did, they would realize that you really need someone trained to do it well.

Just as an example. I run into this problem all the time with managers. Managers that were hired because they were good workers. Yet they were not trained in management. So they end up failing, messing up, etc and at the very least making simple management 101 mistakes that they didn’t realize they were doing because they had no training.

Some related blog posts:

How to become an instructional desginer

10 reasons to get a degree in ISD

What to look for in an instructional design program

Should you go to college

Back to school computer

What computer should you buy your soon to be college freshmen?

First, How much money can you spend? Unfortunately when buying computer you usually do get what you pay for. So if you are spending $400 on a computer expect it to deteriorate faster than a $2000 machine (as in it might last a year vs the $2000 machine that will last for 4 easily). Also, expect that the $400 computer components are probably already 3-4 years old and will have trouble running current software. A minimum I usually tell people is to spend $700 and get it on a good sale. Less than that and you are asking for trouble. $1000-$1200 is even better and what the majority of students need. And $1200-2000+ is what you need for a high end machine for gaming, computer programmer, graphic artist, movie editor, sound editor. Once you have decided your price point, then decide…

Do you need a Mac or PC? Well maybe Macs are already out of your price range. So you can skip to the next paragraph. If you are not sure which you should get ask yourself the following: Are you good with computers (tech geek) or going into computer science, engineering, business or a science field? Then I would get a PC. So much software only runs on a PC so you dont want to get into a class where something you are using wont run on your computer. If you are not good with computers and just need something that will last for your 4 years to write papers, browse the web, and be used in courses, then definitely get a Mac. They are great for those that are not tech people and usually will last 4+ years. I had one that lasted 8 years.

Next you need to decide what brand, upgrades, and where to buy…First, shop around. Look online and at stores. Take a sales associates words with a grain of salt. First they are trying to make a sale and they are NOT usually computer experts. If they were computer experts they wouldn’t be a sales associate at Best Buy or Walmart they would be working at a company making 60-90k a year. Secondly, they are NOT in your program and do not know what you really need. So do your own research. There are tons of back to school sales and all of the computer companies offer discounts for students. So look and compare. But what brand? If you are getting a Mac then you know you are getting a Mac. If PC however, there are tons of options out there. I would personally rather look components and price rather than brand per se but I do like Dell and Alienware (a dell brand) but there are many others out there too.

So what components should you be looking at? Disk space. How much do you currently use? I would recommend at least 250-500GB. Also remember there are free options for space such as dropbox so space might not be too much of an issue anymore unless you have tons of pictures, songs, movies (which all college kids have). Remember that if you run out of space you can buy a 1TB (1oooGB) hard drive for under a $100 at any time so don’t worry too much about the space issue. Next you have Ram. Get a minimum of 8GB but I would probably not get under 12GB if I wanted this to last for 4 yrs. My current computer has 32GB (and its 3 yrs old) just to put what you are buying into comparison of what is out there. Ram is one area where you need to upgrade. If you are a gamer or in a major where you need a fast computer get as much ram as you can afford. Then of course you need to consider the video card and processor. I usually try to get the best I can here as well. The least important thing for me is disk space as I can always upgrade that and buy more. As far as screen size, it doesn’t really matter – that is your preference. Get what you are comfortable with.

Should you buy a warranty? Yes. Please get it. I watch computers fail all the time. Please get it for at least 3 yrs if possible. Computers, especially laptops will wear out as they are carried from class to class and stuffed in a backpack. Keep in mind your school will fix computers as well so make sure you check with your school to see what they offer.

Should you buy Office and other software as an add on? NOOOOO. Wait until you get to college. Colleges will offer huge discounts on this stuff. For example you can buy the full office package at my university for $30. They have tons of software too so make sure you check before putting out big bucks on software.

Oh, and if you are wondering the answer is NO, a tablet cannot replace a computer. A tablet is a great compliment to a computer but you need a computer. You cannot get by with just a tablet.

 

What can you learn from games anyway?

I love video games and I love the lessons that they can teach to kids. So what can we learn? Well obviously a game geared towards math can teach a kid math but that is not what this post is focusing on. What I want to focus on are the FIVE MAJOR skills that you can learn when playing video games such as League of Legends, World of Warcraft, and Minecraft (keep in mind that not all games do these things so you need to be selective):

  1. You will lose. You cannot always win and games teach you that you will lose. I believe this is great because in today’s watered down culture we give kids trophies for trying in addition to winning. Games do not work that way. You only get the prize if you win. This is an important lesson that needs to be fully understood by kids so they know that they need to work hard to win in life.
  2. Problem solving. You will learn to problem solve. You don’t like losing? Guess what, you need to keep playing and practicing to get better just like real life.
  3. Teamwork. This is a skill that kids learn in sports. You cannot win a game by yourself. However, not all kids play sports. If a kid does not play sports I would definitely make sure they learn teamwork from a very young age and multiplayer games are a great way to accomplish this.
  4. Communication. You have to communicate with your team virtual in games. This is a great skill as many jobs are now virtual and you need to communicate with team mates, a boss, and clients in a virtual environment. You will learn how to greet, sign on/off, and online speak in general.
  5. Your imagination is the limit. Games like minecraft allow you to build and construct. Literally your imagination is the limit. This teaches kids to invent and create things that are not there. This thinking outside of the box is a skill that managers want and a skill that innovators like Bill Gates have.

League of Legends in the classroom?

lol

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of League of Legends. Its a game I play several times a week, if not more. Lately, I have been seeing LoL clubs forming on campuses (there is one at UNCW) and courses about this game. So can this game be used in k-16 education and how?

Can it be used?

It’s definitely a game that could be used in middle grades and up. However, there is not content in the game. Its a MOBA (Massive online battle arena) game where two teams face off to capture a base. But it could be used to teach skills. If you are unfamiliar with the game, think of it like a virtual game of capture the flag. But to answer the question, I absolutely believe a game like this can be used in middle, high, and college grades. But how? For what? and Why?

What?

It would be used to teach skills – teamwork, communication, and problem solving strategies. The game is set up to be played 3v3 or 5v5 so students would need to learn to work together on a team, fulfilling various roles, in order to win the game. You have to work together or you lose. You also need to communicate. This includes chat, voice, and signs (pings). You would need to learn to play the game, read the chat box/type in it, and talk at the same time. Additionally you need to learn strategies, which include solving problems that may change throughout the game. This is a skill that could be taken into corporate settings. Its a skill I have trouble teaching my graduate students so the fact that this game (or similar) can teach it is very helpful. In this way, the game is like real life – you work on a team, you communicate well, and you form a strategy to win. If you do not do it well or not as good as the other team, you lose. And you can keep trying until you do figure it out.

How?

First you would need the game, which is free, computers, and internet. You would also need microphones. Additionally, you would need to make sure students played custom games. You would not want them playing with strangers because when there is a game with millions of players, there are people who will swear and do other things like causing you to lose on purpose (called trolling). Thus custom games would be a must. So you would need either 6 or 10 people to play each game.

Why?

One simple reason – motivation. The game is fun. Why not play a game like this instead of doing another reading case study where students might learn these skills? My philosophy is that I should be making learning as fun as possible so it doesn’t feel like school. I want learning to be fun. I also want students to take learning seriously and if they could take this game seriously then the learning part would come naturally.