Breaking Down the Walls: Using Presence-Building Technologies to Improve Student Engagement and Performance in Online Introductory Psychology

Chris RoddenberryWake Technical Community CollegeWithin the first 5 minutes, I feel like this session is going to be a slew of tools. That’s not a complaint by any means, but certainly not what I expected. Chris goes from a slide about tools to a slide about his ultimate goal: “Fostering a sense of community in my online classes.”Chris is very open about the fact that Wake Technical’s success/completion rate for their online classes is 50%, which is, as he put it, due to the lack of connection or presence. The students stayed on their side of the wall while the instructor stays on their side. One of the things that he mentions is that his move from face-to-face classes didn’t involve new tools, but utilizing the right tools for the right reasons.Online Meeting Software

  • Orientation
  • Class meetings
  • Office hours
  • Review sessions
  • Club events
  • Tutoring

One of the interesting things that Chris mentioned is that his online classes incorporate synchronous and asynchronous options. The students can attend a synchronous session if they wish, or they can just participate in the discussion forums. He treats this as a method of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).Chris uses texting software for a variety of purposes in his course.

  • Just in time nudges for assignment due dates
  • Rapid follow-up on students missing work
  • Group discussion chains
  • More immediate than email

The key for Chris in using the text messages is to use the students’ name to make it more personalized. https://twitter.com/evinsmj/status/833697154954887168If there are times when Chris doesn’t have any reminders to send out, he sends encouraging messages. I didn’t get a picture of the slide, but some of the students really appreciate the words of encouragement.Another example of Chris’ presence in his online classes is through the use of custom video. These can include housekeeping, encouragement, reminders, etc. He doesn’t focus on making the “perfect” video – his videos have bloopers, accidents, lack of (or too much) blinking, etc. In my opinion, these are the best videos. Having a level of humanality in the video makes you (the instructor) more relatable.Chris shared some lessons learned based on his development and conversion of online courses.

  • High touch does not spoil students
  • It takes time to develop your tool capability
  • Find your mix

One of the best things he mentioned in this session is that the additional tools (Remind, synchronous discussions, etc.) are opt-in. don’t be discouraged if the first time you do it, you only get 3-4 students taking advantage. Over time, as you continue to advertise the tools, purposes, etc., the numbers will increase. It’s easy for an instructor to get discouraged and give up on a tool far too early. Keep trying!Here is a video that Chris produced on the high touch/hi-tech approach that he uses at Wake Tech.https://youtu.be/0ZATgNQpD5sThere were some great questions about how do you select the synchronous meeting day/time, do you pre-load text messages, etc.? These were framed in context of the amount of work needed to create the UDL effect in the course. Overall, a great session. There were some tech issues in the room (some ghost kept advancing the PPT before Chris was ready). But the content was good. I’ve started thinking about how I might be able to add high-touch to some professional development opportunities that we design. Would non-traditional students like high-touch? I’m not sure. But it’s certainly worth trying…

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