Top 10 OWL Tips
from Reflections 69, Autumn 2013
The following OWL tips were compiled from the August 27, 2013 Fall Perspectives on Teaching Conference, OWL panel session, by Deanna Grogan (Information Technology Services), Diane Mahar (Faculty of Health Sciences), Sarah McLean (Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry), Bethany White (Faculty of Science), and Kim Holland (Teaching Support Centre).
- Whenever you explore a new place, it is useful to have a map! The same applies to your OWL course. Tell your students, perhaps in a ‘Getting Started’ lesson, where to find the course content, activities, course expectations, contact information, etc.
- Use your home page. Don’t leave it blank! The home page is the most important page because students see it first. Use it to introduce yourself and the course. Remember, you can use images to tell your students about the course. If you want to create a banner or group of images but don’t know how, the ITRC can help make it happen.
- If you want to see your OWL course exactly as your students do (i.e., to see what content is and is not visible), add yourself to the course as a student. You will need another e-mail address to do so. For example, if you have an e-mail account with Rogers, Sympatico, or Gmail, add this e-mail to the student list for your course. Now you can log into your course as an instructor with your Western e-mail account, or as a student with your secondary e-mail. Everyone should take advantage of this doppelganger experience!
- Use OWL to organize your lessons. Each ‘lesson’ could constitute a class, week, or unit of material, and be constructed in a similar manner. For example, a lesson could be structured under the following subheadings: Lesson Overview, Learning Objectives, Key Terms, Lesson X Readings, and Expectations for Completing Lesson X Activity, etc. Consider using the same subheadings for each week or course unit.
- Use OWL to continue the classroom conversation. Your classroom discussions have a definite end time. OWL allows the discussion to extend beyond your classroom and its time limits.
- Avoid answering the same questions over and over. Create a ‘Help’ discussion forum (e.g., Lecture Help, Lab Help, Tutorial Help, etc.,) where students can post their questions. You and other students can post answers for the whole class to read.
- Make your course content dynamic. Use release dates so that content appears at different times, giving you control over the flow of information. A news feed can show current events related to your course. You can also ask students to upload content (e.g., text, images, links) to Lessons, Resources, Wikis, and Forums, and in doing so, provide them with the opportunity to engage with and contribute to the course.
- Use OWL for student submissions. This will eliminate lost assignments, and you can use OWL to check for plagiarism (Turnitin is integrated into OWL).
- Consider extending the ‘Accept Until’ date for assignments. When creating an assignment in OWL, you will need to specify three dates: The Open Date (students can view the assignment), the Due Date (completed assignments are expected), and the Accept Until Date (the last day students can submit an assignment, although late marks will apply). It is a good idea to allow some time between the Due and Accept Until dates (the default allows no time) or students will not be able to submit late assignments. As a result, students will have to contact you in order to negotiate a late submission - and this could mean a lot more work for you!
- Gather feedback from your students before the end of term. Use the ‘Tests & Quizzes’ assessment tool to create an anonymous survey in which you ask for feedback from your students on the course.
Tips for Online Teaching
from Reflections 69, Autumn 2013
The following tips for online instructors were presented at the August 27, 2013 Fall Perspectives on Teaching Conference, OWL panel session, by Diane Mahar (Faculty of Health Sciences) and Kim Holland (Teaching Support Centre).
For those of you who are teaching entirely online, there are a couple of things you can do to make the course a great experience for students. Consider creating ‘teacher presence’ and building ‘class community’. To do these important things, think about and try the following:
- OWL is a useful tool for building relationships when, otherwise, you might only have a short period of time with students. It is an excellent communication device because it allows instructors the chance to move away from the didactic environment of the classroom to an online place for discussion.
- Create teacher presence at the very start of your course through a personal introduction. Include a picture of yourself or a self-recorded audio or video file. Talk a little bit about the course and share some interesting details about yourself.
- In order to build class community, have each student introduce themselves in the first discussion posting. Ask icebreaker questions like: ‘why are you interested in taking this course?’ or ‘what interests or talents do you have?’ or ‘what is the most difficult thing you have ever done?’ Consider posting your own replies to these questions.
- To sustain an online community, each person needs to feel like their comments are respected, and that they can contribute safely. Improving the students’ comfort level may take time. Allow students to argue but teach them how to challenge each other respectfully. Show them that conflict is acceptable, even warranted for learning! Consider developing a ‘net-etiquette’ policy statement for your course.
- In larger classes, consider creating smaller spaces for students. Use the group tool in OWL. Smaller groups will make community building easier.
- Give students guidelines on what you expect them to do. In an online environment, explicit instructions are necessary in order to avoid confusion. If you have graded discussion forums, provide a rubric that shows how you are going to grade their postings. Include the due date in multiple places, e.g., the syllabus, the calendar, and with the posted questions. Think like a student when you are pulling together material for the course. Ask yourself, if I were a student what questions would I have? Incorporate these hypothetical questions and answers into the learning materials for your online students.