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One part ninja, three parts Glinda? Exploring the ideal online teaching presence

Is the ideal online teaching presence just over the rainbow?

I have always imagined an ideal teaching presence would evoke a feeling of joy and awe — a natural and organic sense of being connected with that perfect guide on the side. From the opening YouTube course orientation to the multimedia announcements, the right presence makes the learners feel supported. There are plenty of reminders to ask for help and even a pretty Twitter button for just in time support — learners reflect “wow, this teacher’s a ninja of online tips and tricks!!” Embedded social tools incorporate the presence of peers. This online learning experience shines and sparkles! It’s so sparkly in fact… you can even hear this song ‘Optimistic Voices‘ from the Wizard of Oz playing.

Foru Friends Approach the Emerald City, The Wizard of Oz, 1939 MGM Film

You’re out of the woods – You’re out of the dark – You’re out of the night :: Step into the sun, step into the light :: Keep straight ahead For the most glorious place :: On the Face of the Earth Or the sky :: Hold onto your breath – Hold onto your heart – Hold onto your hope March up to the gate :: And bid it open ~Optimistic Voices, The Wizard of Oz, 1939 MGM Film

Ohhh! Love that, pretty voices. Colorful images – let’s hashtag that #NOFILTER. 

but is that it?

is that all it takes to make students successful?

Of course not!

There’s a lot more to teaching presence than the look and feel (although shiny and sparkly can be nice).

Behind the curtain

Behind the gates of the Emerald City, our four friends find ‘a humbug.’ When students actually seek assistance beyond the helpful reminders and announcements, that’s where my teaching persona matters most.

from Chapter 16: The Magic Art of the Great Humbug; image from Lambertville Library

from Chapter 16: The Magic Art of the Great Humbug; image from Lambertville Library

Through experience I have learned that the teaching persona that helps my students relate to me best is rooted in my expectations for positive outcomes.

I express this presence most often not when things are shiny and happy, but rather when things get rough. (Think Glinda, the good witch of the north, with the candidness and authenticity of Oprah and a wee bit of Tina Fey humor).

I expect questions… and even a little confusion.
Just because I expect positive outcomes doesn’t mean I expect the road to be paved with gold (or yellow brick). Rather, I expect it to be bumpy from time to time, especially at the beginning.  My teaching presence needs to be endlessly patient and kind when approached by students as the learning community is forming. There may be some repetition involved, but that’s what it takes to develop an environment where people can take risks. Because I teach social media, taking risks is essential for growth.

I assume people are doing the best they can with what they know. Every learner can grow. By meeting them where they are at (instead of where I ‘want’ them to be) I can be more effective.
Treating people the way YOU want to be treated doesn’t always work best. Not everyone needs or wants the same thing. Really listening to learners and finding out where they are goes a long way toward developing autonomy. The people I often spend the most time with become the peer leaders in the future.

There is always a better way to do things and move forward in  a positive direction.
You can’t expect to anticipate their every need, but you can toss out the idea that you know it all – acknowledge that when learners are struggling it’s a cue that YOU and THEY can probably do it better. But how? Listening and observing learners carefully can give you insights into pathways that can make other learners more successful. When I receive feedback, I cherish it – and when I give feedback, I try to say exactly what needs to be said in a way that moves us forward toward our goals.

What do you think?

If you’re not feeling it… what’s the ‘devil’s advocate’ perspective on this teaching persona? I want to think more about this!

If you’re feeling it… Can you think of a better character besides Glinda that espouses this persona?

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Build conceptual understanding in learners through remix and re-creation

How can creation and remix tools be used to offer students a rich opportunity for learning?

Also referred to as digital storytelling tools, creation tools allow users to easily create and retell stories, present information, and remix media in many ways. From images and video to animation and from avatars to visualizations, creation tools emphasize user expression. They are often integrated with mobile devices and can be easily shared to social networks. Some creation tools include social networking features, such as YouTube where users can connect creations to their profile and exchange feedback with other creators.

What is remixing?

When users recreate media to integrate new perspectives, knowledge or skills to produce something new we call it remixing. The intention can vary, whether to improve upon an original work or to change audience perspective. Remix culture is related to the rise of technologies that allow the individual to create on their own without a production industry (Wikipedia, 2014).

Examples of remixing media may take several forms such as:

  • a retelling of a classic folk tale where the story is told from the perspective of the villain rather than the hero
  • a mashup where number of different sound or video clips are reorganized to create something new
  • an adaptation of a classic film in a new style or with new techniques

Remixing integrates user creativity and popular culture in a way that is highly engaging. The open digital storytelling course DS106 uses remix for user generated assignments, incorporating remix cards to prompt and challenge learners to develop new ways of expressing culture in digital storytelling tools.

Why is user generated media so engaging?

Media is highly engaging for creators and consumers. The average length of most popular YouTube videos is about 2 minutes, so it is relatively low investment for viewers to consume. User generated media also is incredibly relevant to other users. Most watched videos are either citizen produced or about humans, like news stories (Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2012).

What do we know about media as a learning tool?

Visual thinking includes using visuals in many ways (ie: as metaphors, for storytelling, to communicate a process, to visualize data). Using visual thinking within teaching can improve comprehension, engagement and memory.  If you have time, explore Vanderbilt University’s VIsual Thinking to build your understandings of using visuals in teaching.

Rich media (such as video) creates opportunities for student-content interaction.  It also transmits in a very human way – conveying perspective, humor, and social presence (Harris, Faculty Focus, 2011).

It also “…helps students acquire the initial mental imagery essential for conceptual understanding” making it an effective trigger for learning processes; for example providing a prompt for conversation, introducing controversy or encouraging a response (Miller, 2009; Nicolson & Parsell, 2012).

  • Miller, M. 2009. Integrating online multimedia into college course and classroom: With application to the social sciences. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 5, no. 2: 395423.
  • Nicolson, F. & Parsell, M. (2012). Using Online Environments to Provoke Student-Enquiry. In M. Brown et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of ASCILITE Conference 2012 .

Why is media creation good for learners?

As simple as it seems, developing media really encourages deep thinking. In fact, it mirrors the writing process. Creation often involves:

  • Research and planning including developing a narrative, storyboard or script and planning the production itself
  • Organization of resources such as a collection of icons or graphics, sounds or visuals that suit the project
  • Designing the media, formatting text, composition and other styles into the design tool of choice
  • Sharing and publishing the media to an intended audience, or even the whole world

Affordances of creation and remix tools

Considering the many applications of digital creation tools, consider the user application:

  • Develop digital characters and voices
  • Share, explain, or apply concepts
  • Contextualize information within a scenario or story, which improves memory and overall sense-making of new concepts
  • Ability to respond to scenarios which activate higher level cognitive skills such as application, synthesis and evaluation skills

Imagine your learners responding to a simulated client, customer, or colleague with their own media creation.

Selecting Creation and Remix Tools

  • Features: What abilities will the tool provide the user (ie: are creations branded, can they be shared privately or posted to an unlisted link)? Can you easily integrate media (photos, video, etc) from copyright friendly sources? How is feedback provided; will it be possible to provide constructive criticism? Can you export your creation?
  • System compatibility: Will the tool work for users on the operating systems and devices they use (ie: Mac, Windows, Android, iOS)? What kind of hardware is needed (ie: camera)?
  • Cost: Are there free options?
  • Accessibility: Are the tools being considered accessible?
  • Support Resources: What types of tutorials and supporting documentation is available for the tool?


Of course, there are many tools that could be used; however, I’ve chosen to highlight tools that are most popular with online educators in our community.

  • Instagram and Vine both allow users to create microvideos which are just a few seconds in length. MIcrovideos can also become stop motion animations. Watch examples in this Edutopia 5 Minute Film Festival (2013) and explore the getting started information for Instagram or Vine.
  • Smore is an easy to use, virtual poster tool which allows you to add text, photos and social media. Share your creation easily in websites and on mobile devices. Smore allows users to take advantage of built-in flyer designs, track analytics, add videos and social media content. Watch this short video to learn more and review this Getting Started example for an overview.
  • Thinglink is a tool for adding interactivity to existing graphics including those you upload and photos from Flickr and Facebook; it also offers a mobile app and a teacher version. With Thinglink, you can add interactive links or ‘tags’ to an infographic and embed it in course materials or other websites. You can also allow others to add tags to your creation. See an example and explore the features to find out how it works.
  • YouTube is a popular video oriented social network full of user generated video from around the world. YouTube Editor is a web-based video editor which allows you to edit, annotate and remix videos on YouTube. YouTube Capture is a mobile app that allows you to capture video and upload it directly to YouTube.
  • Animoto is a video and photo slideshow creation tool incorporating photos and video with built in professional transitions timed to music. Users can submit their own media or draw on a library of content for their project. Free projects under 30 seconds can be created in minutes. Educational licenses are also available. See examples and learn more.
  • ToonDoo is an easy to use comic creator which allows you to create characters, scenes and ‘books’ which can easily be published to social networks. Learn about features or sign up for a free account here.
  • PowToon is a tool for creating infographic style videos. Using templates which incorporate music and text, PowToon includes dozens of built in graphics and sample projects. See examples and create a free account here.

There are literally hundreds of other media creation tools that can be used for creation and remix projects including those listed above. Consider just a few at Chris Pappas’ eLearningIndustry blog (2013).

Use Scenarios

In addition to the ideas presented above, here are a few popular methods for using creation tools are used in online education.

Digital Storytelling

Learners can create stories to express what they already know and what they are learning. For example, students can conduct (or create) Interviews with real or fictional characters (Kolk, 2012).  Explore more examples of digital storytelling at University of Houston’s Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling site.

Present Research and Demonstrate Skills

Whether explaining models, processes or complex concepts or presenting their own research, creation tools allow students to demonstrate learning. They may even be able to demonstrate something the have learned how to do. In online science courses, for example, learners can record lab procedures and results and share with their learning community.

Reconstruction and Remix

A popular use of creation tools is to have learners reconstruct something that is not digital media using creation tools. For example, learners may recreate a poem as a video or generate an interactive graphic to display data. They may also take photos and video created by others and combine them into something new. Julia Parra has students remix Internet Memes to get a better idea of remix.

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Build informal learning, maintain psychological involvement and increase interaction with social networks

How can social networking tools support online learning?

If you watch television or listen to the radio, it’s likely you hear Facebook or Twitter mentioned regularly. The growth of these social networking services by global users is astounding – Facebook alone has 864 million daily active users (Facebook, 2014). Social networking services (including LinkedIn, Google+ and others including Instagram) offer users the ability to publish a profile about themselves and connect with others online based on interests, activities, and real-life connections (Wikipedia, 2014). These services also allow users to see connections made between other users and to exchange user generated content, resources, media and more.

One of the reasons these services are so popular is that they are incredibly powerful psychologically – they serve individuals’ need to belong and to present the idealized self. According to Psychology Today users of Facebook experience a flow state, in other words, they are not passive and they are not stressed, they are simply flowing through an experience they want to repeat (Mehta, 2012).

Why are social networking tools beneficial for for learners?

Social networking tools can benefit learners by:

  • increasing informal learning opportunities,
  • maintaining psychological involvement,
  • building community, and
  • increasing interaction.

Faculty and students can both learn from and share with a global information network via social networks. Educators often use the term Personal/Professional Learning Network or PLN to describe the ways that they use technology and networks to learn – making connections with the intention of learning from them (Wikipedia, 2014). Social networks can play an important role in personal and professional learning as users actively construct their profile and create connections.

Users of social networks can access a stream of information or ‘feed’ which provides updates from connections. Although the users may not interact with everything in the stream, they are able to keep an ambient awareness of their connections and maintain psychological involvement with communities of which they are a member (Heiberger & Harper, 2008). Through status updates and interactions (such as Likes on Facebook or Favorites on Twitter) users express social presence and identity.

Because of this, social networks can be beneficial in building community among learners, supporting peer-peer interactions and creating a sense of membership and social connection at a distance (Rennie & Morrison, 2013). In addition, social networking interactions are often low investment for participants consisting of reading short messages, passing over those that are not relevant, and briefly responding when it is convenient (Margalit, 2014).

What do we know about social networks as a learning tool?

Although each service is different, there is already a substantial amount of information about social networking use in education.

According to 2012 surveys in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Faculty Focus, nearly 85% of faculty have a Facebook account and approximately 70% of students in higher education are on Facebook every day. Despite these overwhelming numbers, research indicates some Facebook use is tied to student success but more Facebook does not equal better academic performance (Junco, 2011).

Research on Twitter as a learning environment indicates integrating Twitter into instruction can significantly raise student GPA and engagement when used correctly. According to the study “Putting Twitter to the test: Assessing outcomes for student collaboration, engagement and success” (2012, Junco, Elavsky and Heiberger) the following practices are recommended to achieve similar results:

  • Professors must participate.
  • Twitter is integrated in educationally relevant and pedagogically sound ways.
  • Twitter use is required, not optional.

Research basis for adult learning is evident, especially in a global context (2013, van Treeck & Ebner). MOOCs, or Massively Open Online Courses, often use Twitter as a communication system for both facilitator and learner sharing, as an effective venue for sharing updates, conversations, course products and peer feedback.In summary, the methodology for using social networks in instruction plays a role in learning effectiveness.

Affordances of social networking tools

Social networking services enable users to:

  • Follow others, such as those who share their discipline, influential thinkers, and professional organizations
  • Participate in and have access open conversations through hashtags and public commenting
  • Publicize their work and document their efforts, from the small steps of an incremental process
  • Share status updates including resources, tips, reminders and updates
  • Ask questions, crowdsource and receive information and feedback from others

Imagine your learners responding to a simulated client, customer, or colleague with their own media creation.

Selecting Social Networking Tools

  • Communication and Privacy: Are there options for closed groups or is everything open? Can learners participate without ‘friending’ others?
  • System compatibility: Will the tool work for users on the operating systems and devices they use (ie: Mac, Windows, Android, iOS)?
  • Identity: Does the network allow for pseudonyms? Are users encouraged to use their real names? Will products from the learning be associated with the learners publicly?
  • Accessibility: Are the tools being considered accessible?
  • Support Resources: What types of tutorials and supporting documentation is available for the tool?


For the purposes of this series, specific tools are recommended. Of course, there are many tools that could be used; however, we’ve chosen to highlight tools that are most popular with online educators in our community.

  • Twitter is a microblogging tool and social networking service where users communicate in short messages of 140 characters or less. Users can interact with others via hashtags and locate tweets through search. They do not need to ‘friend’ each other to communicate and can easily use the site with a pseudonym. More resources are available regarding Twitter in Workshop 1.
  • Facebook is a popular social networking service where users typically use their real names and connect with people they know (relatives, coworkers, classmates, etc.) as ‘friends’ to share personal updates, photos, and stay connected to others. The service includes a number of features for interacting with ‘non friends’ including Groups for Schools and Pages. Using Facebook requires setting up a profile and timeline as well as making many decisions about who you share with.
  • Instagram is a photo sharing social networking service available through mobile apps. Users submit photos and use hashtags to tag and locate images, events, and more. Review the Getting Started resource or download the app to explore.
  • LinkedIn is a social networking service built around professional connections. User profiles are a resume of employment history, professional recommendations and endorsements by connections. LinkedIn provides both members only and open groups as well as blogs, job search tools, and company profiles. Recorded webinars are available for learning more.
  • Google+ is a social networking service provided by Google. Although it is rumored to be the “Walking Dead” of social networking services, it provides powerful closed groups called Communities and is integrated with YouTube and the meeting and collaboration tool Google+ Hangouts. Learn more about Google+ and watch this video to see it in action.

Use Scenarios

In addition to the ideas presented above, here are a few popular methods for using social networking tools in online education.

Learners can:

  • Contribute to in a course backchannel to decentralize the role of the expert and make lectures more interactive
  • Create an online study guide by posting tweets during an activity and then aggregating them using Storify
  • Respond to pre and post learning study questions/prompts easily using social networking tools
  • Refine writing/summary skills (develop clarity in expression, practice summarizing ideas)
  • Identify, follow and interview experts.
  • Practice communicating in a different language.
  • Personify fictional/historical characters or fake personas in satire or seriousness
  • Report field experiences incorporating data, photos, video, location
  • Collaborative to solve a problem or craft a narrative created (ie: creating a thesis statement, translating a poem)
  • Evaluate data within Tweets and conversation (older, newer, widely circulated, less circulated, by location, topics, language, syntax, hashtags)
  • Create data collection instruments or polls to gather data in social networks
  • Analyze conversations in social media (of industry communication, of sentiment within conversations, by creating concept maps and visualizations, through identify relationships such as cause/effect, between individuals and groups)
  • Groups on Facebook can be Open, Closed or Secret. They allow users to share events, discussions, photos, videos, links and documents with those who are not ‘friends.’ Students can share projects and receive likes and feedback from peers. Groups are an excellent choice for courses, programs, cohorts and learning communities. Facebook makes it easy with Groups for Schools. Look at Baum’s Ladder of Engagement strategy for ideas on how to integrate this with instruction.
  • Pages allow users to engage a larger community. Users can Like the page to receive notifications and share comments. This is a great option for a faculty member to present an identity as a public figure but also works well for promoting an department or program. Users can send private messages to Page administrators. Groups of students can collectively administer and publish to Pages to the world to collectively publish a magazine or news resource.

What about your suggestions? How are social networks supporting your instructional design and/or online teaching?

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Getting Ready for #MakerCamp at @FabLabEP <3

Poster from Maker Summer Camp 2014 | Fab Lab El Paso.

Yikes! So super excited about Maker Summer Camp 2014; wish we could bring our friends. Here’s the description for next week’s session…

Art and Design (July 14th-18th)

When we make something, we’re infusing it with a little bit of ourselves, whether it’s a robot or a painting, and this week campers get to try their hands at merging form and function to create things that are beautiful as well as useful. People say it’s important to create art for art’s sake; at Maker Camp we make for making’s sake.

Field Trip Friday to Cartoon Network Studios at 11am Pacific time on July 18th

Have you or your kids attended a Google #MakerCamp? What should we expect?

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New Mexico Yoga Conference #nmyogacon

New Mexico Yoga Conference #nmyogacon

What’s happening this weekend? The second annual New Mexico Yoga Conference! Don’t miss some of my favorite teachers in the whole wide world and your chance to share a WHOLE lot of love for the Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico (RCCCNM).

See you Friday and Saturday in Albuquerque! It’s not to late to register.

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Tune In, Chill Out <3 August 11at @ddyoga

Anja Chakra Workshop at @ddyoga 8/11/2013

Anja Chakra Workshop at @ddyoga 8/11/2013

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for your yoga journal <3 the seven major chakras

Click on the image to download a PDF version.

Click on the image to download a PDF version.

Mashed this up earlier in June for @ddyoga Chakra Balancing workshop cotaught with Jane Bloom. Enjoy!

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3 ways to integrate mindfulness in your online class, inspired by @marcparry’s “You’re Distracted. This Professor Can Help.”

David Levy at University of Washington guides students in meditation before each class and integrates practices like the ’email drill’ to support learner mindfulness.

How many “Om”s does it take to power online student success?

If you haven’t yet read You’re Distracted. This Professor Can Help. – Technology – The Chronicle of Higher Education you’re in for a treat.

David Levy’s course “Information and Contemplation” engages students in mind-training exercises like an email drill where learners practice doing nothing but email for 15 minutes of time. Activities like this help students tune in to the overlap between their attention and intention. From both metacognitive and a wellness perspective, this makes sense.

Integrating mindfulness in education isn’t a surprise to followers of Howard Rheingold who has been encouraging educators to integrate ‘netsmart‘ literacies including attention, participation, collaboration, “crap detection,” and “network smarts.”

You don’t have to look far these days to see integrations of mindful practices such as mindfulness and yoga in face to face education…

but how can we use this in online education?

“Mindfulness is... #TP456

“Mindfulness is…  (Photo credit: ConnectIrmeli)

Here are three ways you can easily integrate mindfulness in your online class.

  1. Make them stretch – Add a “hands on/minds on” activity to the instructions of a challenging activity. Utilize Vanderbilt University’s Desk Yoga Practices .pdf with option to share an artifact after – perhaps to the course hashtag, G+ community, or FB group.
  2. Help them breathe – Integrate full brain breathing into audio narrations, podcasts, YouTube videos/screencasts, and synchronous webconferencing events. Simple cues like “Relax. Breathe deeply.” or “So let’s just breathe for a moment as we take that in” can help students take in more breath during learning. What is the cumulative effect of all of your learners brains getting more fresh blood and oxygen? In case you didn’t know it, breathing is something we don’t tend to do well while online; read more about email apnea. Not only does deep breathing increase brain power, it also reduces stress. How can educators get familiar with breathing (known in yoga as pranayama) practice? The best way is to practice it yourself.
  3. Create a virtual relaxation roomShare your favorite chillax YouTube clips in a playlist for your learners. There’s more to YouTube than cats and educational videos, right? Find some relaxing clips, add them to a playlist and share in your course. I started with this loving kindness meditation for college students – maybe you’d pick a relaxing beach or zen garden. Perhaps you’d ask your students to contribute resources for the relaxation room.

Whichever ideas you explore… talk about your integrations of mindfulness to your learners in your course. Encourage discussion of their ideas and thoughts about information, work, health and technology. Perhaps sharing some articles about David Levy’s course will be a nice segue into this topic with your learners. Most of all? Don’t get too attached to what students do with the resources you put out there – just share it with good thoughts and consider it an offering.

You can read more about meditation, yoga and education in these articles. Enjoy!

Morning Yoga class

Morning Yoga class (Photo credit: J P Davidson)

Related articles

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5 reasons you should integrate meditation in teaching from @edutopia


Are you able to integrate daily quietude or optional meditation in your school?

Visitacion Valley Middle School reported the following results for using Quiet Time in school (in use since 2007).

  1. Suspensions and fights dropped by 50% in the first semester.
  2. Student anxiety decreased and self esteem increased.
  3. 33% of students reported sleeping better at night and 40% reported better ability to focus in class
  4. Overall, the environment at our school is more peaceful because of this program
  5. Faculty and Staff have received training in this program and have reported reductions in stress and greater clarity of mind

Check out the Quiet Time program resources at Edutopia’s Resources & Downloads for Meditation in Schools | Edutopia and enjoy this infographic on Meditation in Education.

Resources & Downloads for Meditation in Schools | Edutopia

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Learners Should Be Developing Their Own Essential Questions

How do you design for and facilitate student inquiry?

User Generated Education


Having essential questions drive curriculum and learning has become core to many educators’ instructional practices.  Grant Wiggins, in his work on Understanding By Design, describes an essential question as:

A meaning of “essential” involves important questions that recur throughout one’s life. Such questions are broad in scope and timeless by nature. They are perpetually arguable – What is justice?  Is art a matter of taste or principles? How far should we tamper with our own biology and chemistry?  Is science compatible with religion? Is an author’s view privileged in determining the meaning of a text? We may arrive at or be helped to grasp understandings for these questions, but we soon learn that answers to them are invariably provisional. In other words, we are liable to change our minds in response to reflection and experience concerning such questions as we go through life, and that such changes of mind are…

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SUN Path I-BEST Curriculum Repository

Resources for I-BEST Instructors

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Reflections on teaching, learning, and technology


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