Teaching Toolbox

Faculty and instructors may use the following tools to help facilitate and manage various aspects of the virtual classroom. These tools were developed by ExEd’s Instructional Design Team after working one-on-one with faculty who have developed blended or online courses at UIC and requested this type of information.

Preparation Checklist
Use this checklist to get started creating your online or blended course.

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Final Review Checklist
Before you offer your course to your students, complete the final quality review.

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Participating in Discussions
Students will need directions regarding how to participate in online discussions. Faculty may use this as an example to post in your course. The language used in this document should vary based on how instructors intend to use the discussion board within the course.

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Setting Student Expectations
Setting the students’ expectations for how the course will run, and how and when the communication will flow between the faculty member and the students will ensure the course is off to a good start. Faculty may use this example and modify it to meet the needs of your class. 

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Modify Your Blackboard Menu Items
Many faculty simply accept the default menu items provided when a Blackboard course is created. This default is a good start and may be good for some courses; however, some basic modifications could significantly improve the student experience.

Here are a few simple guidelines:
1) The name of the menu item should be clear, accurate and speak to the student. Does this menu item lead the student to the syllabus? If so, why not call it “Syllabus”?
2) The menu item should be useful. Do you expect your students to use the Blackboard tools such as the calendar or the the glossary? If not, remove the Tools menu item. It is confusing to students to see options that they do not need.
3) Present the course menu items to your students in a logical order. What do you expect students to read first? It is probably a good idea to have the “Announcements” menu item listed first, followed by the menu items ordered in the way you would like your students to read them. Perhaps a “Syllabus” menu item followed by a “Calendar” item will work for your content.

Go to the Control Panel in your Blackboard course and explore the possibilities in the “Course Options” section. Make the course your own and always consider the student perspective. And, have some fun changing the colors.

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The Importance of a Calendar

Students love calendars! I always recommend to faculty that they offer their students a calendar as a menu item in their Blackboard course site. This is especially important for blended courses. It gives students a reference to easily see when they are supposed to be where.

A calendar should include times when students should attend face-to-face classes and when to participate virtually. If you expect students to contribute to discussions you should include this as well. Important due dates should be marked, and of course, don’t forget the holidays.

Not all faculty love the calendar function in Blackboard because this feature is not easy to use. If you are interested in incorporating a calendar other than Blackboard’s, I suggest you download a free calendar template from the Microsoft Web site. Be sure the calendar template you select is suitable for your version of Word. Once you have created your calendar, you can upload it to Blackboard like any other file. I recommend that you include your calendar as its own menu item as a PDF file. Keep in mind that as your schedule changes throughout the semester, you will need to modify the calendar file and re-upload it to your Blackboard course.

Even though you have the dates clearly stated in the syllabus, the calendar helps students to complete their work on time and to plan ahead for larger projects. Adding a calendar is an easy way to improve the student experience.

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Don’t forget about the phone

Faculty members often tell me that there are times when written communication just doesn’t cut it. This is especially problematic for fully online courses.  I say, “Pick up the phone!” It is easy to forget even though it may be difficult for a student to come to your office during office hours that you can still talk with them.

In your Blackboard course site you should include information about how, when and why a student may to contact you. Be sure to provide guidelines when a student can expect a response from you. If you have office hours, you may encourage students to call you at that time. Also, if you have several students who may benefit from the same information, you may consider setting up a conference call. Sure, Skype and e-Rooms are valuable and have their place in virtual instruction, but a good-old-fashioned phone call can also be a valuable method of communicating with your students.

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Sloan Consortium

University of Illinois campuses are institutional members of the Sloan Consortium thanks to support from Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Meena Rao. As institutional members, we have access to a number of discounted coupons for online workshops, receive discounts for conferences, and have access to numerous online resources from Sloan-C.

For those who have not utilized the membership benefits previously, each individual must first create his or her own Sloan-C account log-in and password. To create an account visit http://www.sloanconsortium.org/user/register. Select the “Guest (Free account)” option and then indicate that you are associated with the University of Illinois at Chicago.

A list of online workshops and conferences can be found at http://www.sloanconsortium.org/workshops/upcoming.  If you are interested in registering for a workshop, please contact Karin Riggs at kriggs@uic.edu. Due to the type of membership we enjoy, registration must be centrally coordinated.

In addition, all members of our institution have full access to website resources including articles from the Journal of Asynchronous Learning, surveys, practitioner documents, the JobLine, Effective Practices, Reports, Listserv, Sloan-C network, and more. Members also receive a 10% discount on all publications.  This list can be found at http://www.sloanconsortium.org/sloanc_publications.

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Give your students a technology map

Most faculty are great at listing all the learning objectives and assignments of a course in their syllabus. Your students need to know what to expect and creating a detailed outline of the semester helps them plan ahead. But, don’t forget to include the technological requirements for your Blackboard course site as well.

Successful Blackboard course sites often contain a content area called “Orientation” or “Tech Requirements”. A list of applications your students may need throughout the semester could include Real Player, Quicktime, Adobe Reader or the Microsoft Office Suite. In addition to providing a list of applications, I suggest you include a checklist for your students to ensure their applications are functioning properly. Some examples of items for this checklist might include; checking to see that their video players work correctly, downloading the latest version of the Firefox browser or typing out discussion board posts in a text editor like Microsoft Word. Additionally students may want to consider purchasing an inexpensive headset with a microphone if they will be participating in a live online classroom. With the technology taken care of ahead of time – your students will be able to focus on what matters most – the course content.

Illinois Online Network

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This program is useful and here is why: 
1) Faculty learn in the online environment. This gives participants a chance to experience learning as a student and gain a student perspective. Most great online instructors have spent some time in the students seat, participating in online discussions, working on virtual teams and interacting with online materials. If you take a course online, then you will see how important clear and accurate instructions are, gaining a better understanding of the importance of time management for students. 
2) Many of the courses offer participants the opportunity to use the courses they teach as example for their online course work. This is a great example of authentic assessment and, by the end of the course or program participants will have completed deliverables they can directly apply to their current teaching efforts. 
3) Participants work closely with peers. One of the greatest outcomes of taking a course is learning that you are not alone in your endeavors. 

As the web site notes, “ION services are free to all faculty, staff, and administration at founding partners. Our services are also available to other Illinois partners at an institutional rate. All other individuals pay a per registration fee in MVCR courses.” UIC faculty can take many of the courses for free. 

If you sign-up be sure that you can dedicate about 10 hours per week to course work. I also encourage faculty to consider pursuing a Master Online Teaching Certificate through ION.  The courses in this program explore curriculum design, online instruction and technical issues related to online and blended learning.

Visit the ION website to learn more:  http://www.ion.uillinois.edu/index.asp