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Monthly Archives: September 2014

Live Life and Age Well: What We Can Learn From Leisure World

Last spring there was an episode of 60 Minutes discussing the Leisure World Cohort.  These residents of the California retirement community were thoroughly evaluated in the 1980’s on everything from their physical activity to what vitamins they took.  Years later, despite their advancing ages, the population from this community has aged exceptionally well and preserved the integrity of their brains.

What did they do to live longer?

Did they discover the fountain of youth?

No, of course, they didn’t.  Instead the residents of this community learned how to live well.  Check out this short clip on what the residents of this community teach us about living life and aging well.

Living to 90 and Beyond-Part 1

Living to 90 and Beyond-Part 2

5 Ways to Connect with Students in an Online Course

by Dr. Polly Trevino

At HBU,  professors care about our students.  We get to know our students and form strong connections with them, which is one characteristic that distinguishes HBU from other institutions.  As we build our online programs and increase our online course offerings, we want to establish rapport with our online students, just as we would our on-campus students.  At first glance, it appears difficult to create similar rapport with online students; however, you can connect with your students in the virtual classroom.  Here are 5 simple ways that you can connect with students in an online course.

Begin the course with introductions.  Introduce yourself, and give students a chance to introduce themselves.  Introduce yourself in a short video or post a page with a biography and pictures.  Describe your professional background, your scholarly interests, and any personal details that you feel comfortable sharing with your students.  I include pictures of myself with my family on my bio page because it humanizes me.  After viewing the page, students know that a real person, not an automated cyber-bot, is teaching the course.  Don’t stop at just introducing yourself.  Give students a chance to introduce themselves in a forum.  Respond to each student’s introduction.  Welcome him/her to the class and comment on something they mentioned in their introduction.

Use students’ names.  Address students by their names.  In the online classroom, most posts or participation is accompanied by a student name/username, so it is obvious who is commenting or posting.  Nevertheless, address students by name in forums, emails, chats, and other communication.  Not only does this humanize students in your mind, it helps you remember their names.  Moreover, when the class sees you addressing students by name, they will be more likely to address classmates by name and direct comments, questions, and conversation to classmates.  This encourages a sense of community in the online classroom.

Be present in the course.  Remember, you are still the same caring, enthusiastic professor that you are in the face-to-face classroom.  Only the modality for expressing your professorial identity has changed in an online classroom.  Because your online students do not physically see you, you must use course tools to be present and be “seen” by students.  Post messages, such as announcements and reminders, several times a week.  Give previews or summaries of course topics in a News/Announcements forum or as class messages.  In forums, participate in the discussion and respond to student posts.  As you respond, synthesize student posts and ask questions to extend students’ thinking (just as you would in a face-to-face discussion).  Give regular feedback using rubrics to grade discussions and assignments.

Relate content to students’ life experiences or contexts.  You can do this in your class messages or announcements.  You can also design discussion tasks that require students to apply course learning to their own experience or context.  You will learn a lot about students from their responses to topics that ask them to link new knowledge to previous knowledge and experience.  Then, you can incorporate what you’ve learned about them into your responses to their posts and in future discussion posts.

Incorporate synchronous sessions.  Synchronous sessions, when you meet with students in real time, can be chat sessions or video conferencing sessions using Blackboard Collaborate.  Attendance at these sessions can be required or optional.  In my experience, students appreciate the extra support that these sessions provide.  Many attend, even when attendance is optional.  These sessions give students a chance to ask questions, hear you lecture, or interact with you and with each other.  Students get a sense of who you are as a professor, and they realize that you care about their learning.

So there you go!  Five simple ways that you can foster relationships and build a learning community with your online students.  Try them in your virtual classroom!

What’s in a name?

by Dr. Stephanie Ellis

In this first week of school, as I meet new groups of students, I always go through my roll and ask students their preferred name and how to pronounce it. And it never fails – at least one student will correct a mispronunciation on my part with something like “just call me Jane – it’s easier.” And it never fails – I’m sad about that.

What’s in a name? In a constructivist way of thinking, words are just sounds that people, over time, have given a certain shared meaning. But isn’t a name different? Whether you love yours or hate it, have changed it legally, or go by a nickname – the name you go by is a part of your identity. And it belongs more to YOU than it does to other people. Your name isn’t just a random set of sounds that over time people came to recognize you by, as if others (besides your parents!) have any say in what you ought to be called. This has been YOUR name for some time, and it has more meaning to you than it does to someone else.

I don’t have a traditionally difficult-to-pronounce name, so maybe I’m not the best person to judge. But when I hear “oh, just call me _____” – I hear a diminishing. Why can’t the burden be on ME to learn to pronounce your name as you do? Why do you need to accommodate me (or anyone) with something so personal?

And God has some thoughts about your name, too …

Yet Jerusalem says, “The Lord has deserted us;
the Lord has forgotten us.”
“Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child?
Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?
But even if that were possible,
I would not forget you!
See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.
Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins.
Isaiah 49:14-16

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
Isaiah 43:1

The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life.
I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.
Revelation 3:5

I don’t mind getting out of my ethnocentric head and doing the work of saying your name properly. I want to honor you for exactly who you are and want to be. I don’t want to diminish you.

Will Laptops Save Education?

by Dr. Dawn Wilson, Associate Professor of Instructional Technology

The beginning of a new school year brings renewed energy and new initiatives. Districts work all summer planning for improved ways to increase student achievement and enhance teacher productivity. In Houston, school districts are also rolling out new plans to increase students’ achievement as well as their 21st Century skills.

This year, Houston Independent School District will distribute laptops to every student in 29 of its high school campuses (the final 11 will get them next year) as part of it’s PowerUp initiative. Many other districts are following suit, rolling out 1-1 access to technology for their students either through BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) initiatives or district supported technology initiatives.

How will all this technology in the classroom affect learning? Well not at all, unless the teachers have been given the time, tools and support to change their teaching strategies in the classroom. Teaching and learning won’t really improve unless the pedagogy is modified to fit the new teaching environment. Providing digital devices for students is a great first step, but it will just function like an ereader or etextbook (a different way to take in the same information) unless teachers learn how to change to a more student-centered teaching and learning environment.

Problem Solving with TechnologyIn these new classrooms, students should be collaborating as they research content, analyze and synthesize the information and then find a way to represent their learning using these new tools they have at their fingertips. Students can create videos, animations, websites, blog, even tweet to demonstrate what they are learning. No longer do teachers need to create a PowerPoint to deliver content to students telling them everything they need to know, but instead they should be designing and facilitate learning activities that engage students in learning what they need to about the content. Then the fun part starts. The teachers allow the students to use any number of creative ways to demonstrate what they have learned and how this information is relevant today.

How are teachers going to learn this new pedagogy? It is probably not going to happen by attending a summer technology workshop. Instead, teachers need to be given the time to learn from each other. They need to rethink instructional strategies. Peer-coaching and instructional-coaching are both professional development methods which have shown positive effects on teaching, but it requires an investment of time and people. Teachers need time to meet together, share what they are doing, and try new things. Teachers learn best when the learning is targeted (something for their own discipline that they can use right away), scaffolded, and differentiated (don’t we encourage this for our own students learning).

In order for all of this technology to make a difference for students, we need to be sure the needs of our teachers are being addressed in personal and meaningful ways. School districts need to find ways to address the needs of the individual teacher, while also reaching the masses, and teachers need to find ways to invest in themselves and share their successes! When they create a great new technology rich lesson that works – share it with other teachers!

So all you teachers out there…increase your own personal learning community.  Reach out to  teachers on other campuses that teach what you teach! Connect with others using social media! Partner with another teacher on your campus to learn how to use a new tool with your students. Partner with your students to try something new. Don’t be afraid! Get connected! Make a difference in a student’s life! Make the 2014 school year your most innovative school year yet!

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