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From the little things to big change

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We have many conversations in Online Learning about our students’ experiences and are especially keen to pass along feedback to each other when we’re privileged to hear it directly from our learners. Recently, Dean Heather Guevara shared an interaction with me that she’d had with one of our online students, a military veteran who graciously voiced a simple plea: “Can faculty just do the little things? Give me feedback on my assignments, answer my emails, bring your field experience, that’s what I’m here for.”

This request resonated with both of us, as we and the entire Online Learning team know that we’re all working hard on BIG changes through a holistic span of initiatives that include department growth and governance, student support, course quality and design, Improved faculty on-boarding in a full training redesign, expansion of our Instructional Technology Specialist (ITS) support team, and growth in both administrative and innovative instructional technology teams, all our efforts aligning with system wide strategic plans. We’re proud to work on the “big stuff” of Online Learning’s system design to offer a solid framework for faculty to share their excellence in little, manageable ways with our students.

With so many ways to continuously improve our practice and service, we all want to focus on higher-quality interactions, not more work. In this spirit, I approached team Online Learning to glean a shortlist of some of the little things that matter so much. We’re sure this is in no way an exhaustive list, and I want to take a moment here to thank my experienced colleagues for sharing their collective wisdom. We also want to acknowledge that there is a lot of good going on! We hear the positive feedback of our students too, and some of these tips echo the little things they commonly share that support their learning journeys:

  • Bookmark this page and when you are working in BrightSpace, save often. – Melany
  • Create learning objectives that are immediately relevant to learners, that are stated in language that learners can understand, and that describe performances that learners can be expected to carry out at a job or in some other “real world” context. It’s not enough to know stuff – learners need to know the immediate relevance of what they are learning. Students usually need to be given the challenge of DOING something before they will undertake the hard work of learning the skills and knowledge that underpin the doing. – Peter
  • Use Item Descriptions. That short blurb you can add to an item in a module by choosing  ” Edit Properties In-place.” They help students understand “what” they are clicking on and “why” you think it is important. I love them as vital road signs in the course that help students know where they are and how to get to the next place. And you can even add an icon if appropriate to help students make visual connections to the same type of content. Modules that are just a long list of item names feel naked (and less welcoming)!- Emma
  • Communicate often and honestly. Can’t get all the assignments graded as soon as you hoped you would? Email your students and let them know you are working on it and need extra time to give them substantive feedback. Most will be happy to wait for higher quality feedback and they’ll be happy (often surprised) you reached out.- Heather
  • Use consistent naming structures for everything, and when you’re creating new pages, don’t start from scratch-  search for a template to begin from. Here, for example, is an accessible syllabus template. We have more within Brightspace.- Michael
  • When you have a challenge, use the search tool at PCC.edu to find information first. Many times our support pages will come up at the top of a Google Search, but this assures that you get system-specific support when it’s available. – Brian
  • When search doesn’t work for you, reach out to our Instructional Technical Support Specialist team. They are our front line connection to a deep faculty support net that helps you focus your time on teaching, not technology. You can also reach them at dlhelp@pcc.edu. – The entire ITS team
  • Use the Brightspace Calendar that connects with Pulse- the mobile app to help students stay on track. – Andy
  • Don’t use Word docs to present module content- copy and paste into the Brightspace editor. Having layout issues? Reach out to an ITS member, they’ve probably seen the issue before and can give you situated feedback. – Casey
  • Also, when you make a change in your course or content, always quickly use the “Student View” feature of Brightspace to verify that the changes you intend to make are what your learners will see. – Casey

This list is rich, and I wonder were I to pose the same question to you as faculty, what would you say? What is the one little thing you do that always gives you a high return on your investment of time and teaching? There are so many ways to pick just one little thing to improve your practice with students! We are a team of colleagues all dedicated to continuously increasing student success, and we hope this list helps you feel both inspired to find just one little thing to do, and better connected to our incredible support team that’s got your back every step of the way.

About Monica Marlo

Multimedia Ed-Tech one up for PCC faculty. Immedgineer- Immersive Education Engineer. Multi-disciplinary, a blended use of analog and digital interactive storytelling tools to immerse a learner toward measurable objectives. (eg: 3D virtual ... more »

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There are 2 comment for this article. If you see something that doesn't belong, please click the x and report it.

x (Comment #45937) by Peter Seaman 9 months ago (Comment #45937)

Thanks, Monica, for assembling this list of helpful tips. I work with this stuff every day but still your list jogged my memory in a couple of areas, which will save some work down the road. It would be neat if we had a knowledge base (kb.pcc.edu??) or some other repository for these nuggets of wisdom. Thanks again.

x (Comment #45938) by Monica Marlo 9 months ago (Comment #45938)

Thanks Peter, itʻs funny you should mention a knowledge base. Thereʻs a group of us that have recently started working with Andy to explore this very topic, itʻs another area of system improvement our growing team affords us the capacity to tackle.

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