Have you tried a “week zero” in your online course?

Welcome_PageWhen teaching an online accelerated course, how do you make essential course information stand out from all the rest of the course content? The first week in my course can be overwhelming. In addition to reading the introductory chapters of the course text and participating in interactive lectures, students are provided with a course tour that reviews the syllabus, explains how to participate in discussions, and submit assignments. They also have video tutorials on how to use the text editor, links to web tools that will be used in the course so they can create the necessary free accounts, tutorials on how to use the web tools and how to embed assignments created with the tools in Blackboard. And of course, I want them to introduce themselves to their peers and get to know one another! Important administrative tasks are mixed in with course content, producing a visually overwhelming amount of content for the first week.

week zero example pic

What is your experience with a “week zero” module?

During a virtual discussion with colleagues, it was recommended that I try a “week zero” module. The idea behind week zero was to place the essential course information for functioning in the online course in a separate module, so that week one contains only course content. After trying this idea in a blended course and a fully online course, I found a slight reduction in the number of emails expressing confusion about what needed to be done, only to be replaced by a slight increase in the number of emails asking questions that were addressed in the separate module. This suggested to me that those students didn’t enter the week zero module.

What ideas do you have for making sure that students view and understand the information provided to them to increase their success and minimize their frustration [… and mine :)]. I look forward to your response.

Dr. Tori’s Favorite Tools for Accessibility (part 8 of 8)

Designing online instruction for educational or training purposes not only requires an understanding of course development, visual design elements, and facilitation techniques, but also an understanding of the resources available to make content accessible to all learners. Typically, this means our instructional design should be accessible to learners who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, visually impaired, or individuals with upper body impairments. Universal Design for Learning reminds us that designing instruction for specific populations, improves instruction for everyone.

Audio files add variety to the presentation of subject matter and can provide practical solutions for accessibility concerns in the design process. Audio files are not only beneficial to students who are blind or visually impaired. They are useful to those who are learning a second language, have difficulty comprehending text, and those whose preferred learning style is the spoken word. Podomatic.com is a tool that allows you to create, upload, syndicate, and download audio files. Instructors can prepare audio lectures, download them, and build them into a course management system. Files can be shared through an embed code or link. Students can use them to respond to lecture content or create a series of audio files to share with an audience beyond the instructor and their peers. However, sometimes you need a tool that will convert a variety of files. Zamzar.com is a good web tool for converting speech-to-text, text-to-speech, and other types of file conversions. Below is a podcast I created for students in my online class highlighting interesting conversations that had taken place the previous week, and providing an overview of the current week.

Are there other free web tools that you use that help make course content accessible to specific populations?

Dr. Tori’s Favorite Social Bookmarking Tool (Part 7 of 8)

How do you organize all the resources you find on the web? Normally I would use my web browser’s bookmarking tool to save links and organize them in folders the same way I would MS Office documents and PDFs on my computer. However, social bookmarking with Delicious picks up where web browser bookmarks leave off in three unique ways.

  1. Because you can add multiple “tags” (or labels) to a web resource you want to save, it’s like cross-listing a single resource into multiple related folders.
  2. Web resources that share the same tag, can be shared with others with one link. This is great when I want to share web resources on a specific topic with colleagues during a training or with learners in a course.
  3. The best part of social bookmarking with Delicious is that I can continue to add web resources with the same tag, and the Delicious link is automatically updated.

When I facilitate online teaching and learning workshops, I usually build my Delicious bookmark  on copyright and fair use into the learning management system we use. Are there other ways you’ve found to use social bookmarking for training or course development? I invite your comments.

Dr. Tori’s Favorite Tool for Screen Captures (part 6 of 8)

Jing! Where have you been all my life! This tool should have a permanent place on the task bar of every instructional designer’s desktop or laptop. As a new instructional designer, one of the first goals I had was to  create content pages within courses where the information is presented in bite-sized chunks. One way to do this is to wrap text around pictures, or include images on the content page with small amounts of text. Anytime I need to capture a picture of an image I want to use for a course, I simply click on “the sun” icon that rests in the upper right corner of my laptop, select the plus sign in the sun’s ray, frame the image, and click the capture icon. Jing is a quick software download that will save you time as you design.

What are your favorite screen capture tools? Please share them in the comments area.

Dr. Tori’s Favorite Free Web Tool for Enhancing the Look of the Content Page: GlogsterEDU (part 5 of 8)

Glog on a Blackboard Learn 9.1 Content Page

Good design enhances the positive perception of feeling tone in an online course and contributes significantly to the educational experience. It’s similar to parking your car in front of your friend’s well-manicured lawn, with a brick encased potted area of colorful flowers lining the front porch, next to a well designed fountain of running water.  The scene excites your senses in preparation for spending time with a friend. In the same way, the content page of an online course can serve to excite the senses.

GlogsterEDU is like a digital poster.  Instructors can upload presentation content to a glog and embed the glog into a learning/course management system. The free GlogsterEDU account allows for the inclusion of video, podcasts, graphics, images, data files, text, and free hand drawings. In addition, students can use a free account to produce presentations for their peers. Feel free to explore the glog below and check out my free Glogster iBook for ideas on using glogs to build community, present content, and assess learners in an online course.

Learn more about Designing an Exemplary course by joining the free open course sponsored by Blackboard’s CourseSites Team. Click here to register!

Dr. Tori’s Favorite Free Web Tool for Creating Community in an Online Course: VoiceThread (part 4 of 8)

Every exemplary course designer is concerned with creating a since of presence in the online space. One of my favorite tools for this purpose is VoiceThread and I use a strategy that I refer to as “the interactive lecture”. VoiceThread allows me to upload PowerPoint slides, images, video, and weblinks; narrate them and invite learners to comment. Learners can comment on VoiceThread using their keyboard, microphone, webcam, cell phone, or an uploaded audio file. It’s also a great tool for a quick formative assessment.

The VoiceThread below is an example of a “cognitive ice-breaker”. It was used in the first week of the course. The first two slides allow learners to introduce themselves. The remaining slides are a formative assessment exercise on their comprehension of the sociological imagination discussed in their text. While you will be unable to comment on the VoiceThread below, I hope you find that it sparks your own creative ideas.

Many thanks to Michelle Pacansky-Brock for including VoiceThread in her Building Community with Social Media workshop!

Learn more about Designing an Exemplary course by joining the free open course sponsored by Blackboard’s CourseSites Team. Click here to register!

Become an Exemplary Course Designer!

This is the welcome video for the CourseSItes MOOC : Designing an Exemplary Course.

Using the Blackboard Exemplary Course Program (ECP) Rubric as a guide, this open course will provide both theoretical concepts and practical tools for instructors to recognize, organize, and build online courses for both blended learners and online learners.

You can enroll in the course at http://www.open.coursesites.com

Twitter: #bbecp

Dr. Tori’s Favorite Free Screencasting Tool (Part 3 of 8): What’s Yours?

The web tools I use regularly to develop online courses and tutorials are chosen for their ability to facilitate research identified best practices in course development. This particular screencasting tool allows the instructor to convey a sense of presence in the course. Screencast-O-Matic.Com is an excellent way to narrate PowerPoint or Prezi lectures. Imagine the difference between reading a welcome message from your professor and hearing the professor welcome you personally to the course. Screencast-O-Matic can also be used to show course navigation features, how to participate in a discussion, or how to upload an assignment. If you have a webcam, this tool will also capture your image in a small frame positioned in the lower right corner of the completed screencast. There is no need to develop courses with just text. Visual and auditory learning styles can be accommodated with this tool.

What tools do you like to use for screencasting?

The YouTube video was prepared for a professional development workshop and screencasts how to follow me on Twitter.

Dr. Tori’s Favorite Free Web Tools for eLearning and Course Development (Part 2 of 8): Saving Videos You Find on the Web

It’s been my experience that eight types of web tools are often used to develop learning content. In the last post, we discussed hosting videos you create on YouTube, as well as finding interesting content on YouTube that you can link or embed in your courses.


Let’s say you find videos on the web that you want to use in your course. Because owners can remove their videos at anytime without notice, it would be a good idea to make a habit of archiving good videos.  Video owners have the opportunity to grant you the right or limit your right to use content through the Standard YouTube License or the Creative Commons license. YouTube makes it easy to download many videos (see image below).

Picture of download option for youtube videos

From the video manager page, click the downward arrow to right of the “edit” option next to the video you want to download. Scroll down, and select “download mp4″.

Should you have difficulty downloading a video, you may want to consider sites such as KeepVid.com or FetchVideo.com. Both of these sites allow you to enter a video’s URL and to choose the download format you need, such as MP4, MP3, or FLV.

picture of download options from fetchvideo.com

Download options from FetchVideo.com

Once you’ve downloaded videos you want to use in your courses, save your videos in the cloud through DropBox.Com so that you can use them while you are building your course anytime, anywhere. Saving and archiving videos you want to use for instructional purposes will put you at ease, knowing that your instructional resource will always be available.


What has been your experience with these tools? Are there others that you prefer?