Initial Publication Date: May 25, 2017

Brett Dooley, Patrick Henry Community College

How do you utilize technological tools (Google Earth, topical databases, blogging, etc.) in your online courses?

Google Earth and ArcGIS StoryMaps are great resources online students. I have used both to have students identify, for example, river features (e.g. meander, delta, alluvial fan, ...) as well as to describe the stages in a process (such as the development of an oxbow lake). I have used Gapminder as a tool to build slide shows, but I'd like to have students use the software to access the data for themselves. I am hoping to work this into the next iteration of the webquest on volcanoes and earthquakes.

Virtual field trips can also be used with online students. I coauthored and have used two iBook field trips with my historical geology classes. Now that I am teaching from a distance, and students no longer have access to the school's iPads, it has become more difficult.

I use software to maintain a website for my students. The website contains guided research projects and a couple of virtual field trips.

Although, in my classes the most commonly used technologies are those for communication. I create a class cell through the website and require all registered students to create a free account and to join the cell. Students receive a PDF with instructions to join through a web browser or phone app. Celly allows group and individual messaging. Thus, I can post to the entire class or to a single student. Similarly, students can ask a question of the entire class, to just me, or to their study group. I also use Google Hangouts both the video chat with students and for instant messaging.

How do you manage student engagement and assessment in your online courses?

An open and easily used form of communication is important for engaging students in any course, but especially online courses. I use tools within the Learning Management System, in my case Blackboard, such as discuss boards and group forums to engage students both with each other and with me. I also use social media to facilitate and expedite communication including Google Hangouts and Celly, which both allow chatting or instant messaging. This means, despite the 3000 miles separating us, I can generally respond to students almost immediately and no one needs to release personal information (like a phone number).

A personal connection is always beneficial, so during the first week of the online class I encourage all students to sign up on a calendar I provide to "meet" me through a Google Hangout video chat. The students can ask me questions about the class, about me, grading, whatever they want. Sometimes they sign up in pairs or triads, but at the very least we each can place a face with the names we see in emails and discussions.

Again, while providing meaningful and timely feedback is always important, it feels more so for online classes. Students may already feel isolated, so getting feedback to them efficiently is important. While the syllabus states they should give me as long to grade an assignment as they had to work on it, I try to have no more than a 48-hour turn around for grades after submission. I always put comments on their submitted work using the LMS interface. Even if it is just, "keep up the good work," reminding students a real person is on the other side can be encouraging.