Monday, October 8, 2018

How Teaching Online Made Me a Better In-class Teacher

Whoever they are, they say, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Well, apparently from this old dog, I can attest that you can teach yourself more than a few new tricks. 

My travels have taken me from in class teaching, to hybrid teaching, to online teaching and to various iterations of all three. My most important discovery is that changing the way I present a course, whether it be in class or online is changing the way I teach. 

Teaching in class is becoming a new experience because of my online teaching. Putting my in class course into a blender on high and totally creating a new and unique online form of it is transforming my own way of thinking. Dare I say I have become a better teacher?

As a long-term college teacher, I’ve always been interested in technology. I had websites to share my notes long before my college introduced a learning management system. Those old websites may have begun with a few embarrassing blinky gifs, but the content was sound and students always found them helpful and blinking gifs have even come back in vogue.

Learning Management Systems

 When we moved into learning management systems like WebCT and Blackboard, it wasn’t long before I was piloting online on-campus testing and then creating my first hybrid course- Strategies for Student Success in 2001. The course was a mandatory half credit course for all Business and Creative Arts students meant to help give new students some of the basic skills needed for success and to help them connect to the college. It was all about the R word- Retention and the P word- Persistence. The course was half in class and half online and the online part was self-directed.

We Made it to the Newspaper 

The course managed to get a little media attention when the Toronto Star wrote a small story about our course just after 9/11. I was quoted at the time as saying, “I think most institutions are realizing that one of the reasons that a lot of students leave is because they do not feel connected and one of the main goals of the student success course is to make them feel that they belong, they are not alone, and that we care about them.” Looking back, I find it interesting that we were using what was considered a disconnected form of learning to help students feel like they belonged.

The online modules featured a friendly talkative tone that discussed basic college survival skills and some specific areas in the college there to help. In many ways the course accomplished its goal. Looking back, I think it was a bit ahead of its time and underappreciated.

Getting my "Me" Online 

The course was the beginning of me trying to figure out how to transfer my in class personality and content into an online environment. I learned a lot about creating online interactions and reformulating content in unique ways, but somehow at that time it wasn’t spilling over into my in class experience. I still had my online notes posted and did most things in class a similar way that I always had. 

Later on when I began helping others create online courses, I was still learning and evolving but I wouldn’t say it was really changing the way I taught my in class courses. That was probably because the content I was working with to help put online was not my own. It’s different when you rethink others work compared to your own. 

It's Not Easy!

When I created an online version of one of my in class courses Visual Communications, that’s when things started to change. If anyone ever tells you that if you have been teaching a course in class for years that it will be easy to put online, I’d probably tell you if it was easy maybe it’s not a great course. There were all sorts of emotions and time and effort putting Visual Communications online, but in the end there has been a great evolution.

The Big Blender!

Like I mentioned earlier I needed a really big high-powered blender. Things went in many times again and again and came out very different. Everything needed to be rethought. Because I am the type who loves technology and am comfortable learning new tools, I was able to find all sorts of different ways to present different ideas. 

Synergy is Real

Having taught the course in class for years, I did know the parts that students had difficulty with, so I was able to focus on creating interactive elements that related to those concepts. When I did that, something clicked and I realized that now these little interactive elements could be used in my in class course as well. My in class courses had enhanced resources.

Visuals, Visuals, Visuals

Because that online course was Visual Communication, I soon realized how important visuals were to presenting everything in the course. Soon not only did my content have visuals to help illustrate things but relevant visuals were everywhere. For example, a section on how grades were allocated used an accompanying visual graph. My welcome message and announcements would also have illustrative images.

Finding My Voice and Sharing It

My writing style tried to use the similar talkative style I used in class and though it seemed lively, I still felt my personality was not quite there. That led me to create voice-overs for every content page that students could click on if they wished to hear me. This has proved to be the most mentioned point students make when talking about the class. They love that they can be on the TTC or GO train listening to content pages. They say they feel they know me. 

Evaluating Online Results vs In Class Results

When I created this online course, I wanted to keep the course as similar as possible assessment-wise so that I would be able to compare how in class students do compared to online ones. I kept the exact same online tests in both and only had to tweak the other assessments to keep them somewhat in line.  

Ringo asks Why

The Big Why
After a few semesters running both in class and online versions, it seemed that the online students were outperforming my in class courses. Consistently the online class ended up with about a 5% higher class average. There is something very satisfying about this but something a little sad. Apparently I am better online than in class. I wondered why.

Let's Do it Again

I put my second in class course Psychology of Consumer Behaviour online and followed through the same long process rethinking and recreating online. I really benefited from the groundwork I had laid with the other course. Again all the great new interactive elements I made for online were added to my in class course and my in class course got better.

Doing Something Right and Something Wrong  

Keeping this online course again consistent with my in class course, I was able to get the same statistics again. Students online were consistently outperforming in class courses. This could partly be explained by the fact that the courses were offered on different campuses. The online class mostly ran at a campus that tended to get slightly higher grades. I could see what I was doing right but wondered what I was doing wrong.

Light Bulbs Flashing

Last year as I was working on my online class checking in to see who had not logged on to the course so I could send them an email to ask if they were waiting for an exemption, or had some problem, another light bulb came on. Why am I only doing this for my online class? Why am I sending an announcement to my online class mentioning the last date to withdraw but not doing the same in my in class course?

My students and I in the online class were introducing ourselves in the online class in an opening discussion forum and really finding out the diversity and creativity of our class, but what did I or my students know about each other after week 1 in the in class course? 


These little things haunted me, maybe I wasn’t as good in person and I needed a bit of change.  I decided to include some of these same things in my in class course. I created a bonus welcome forum for my in class course where students could get a bonus mark for doing a somewhat similar task that my online students do. A lot of students really took to this idea and we learned all sorts of interesting things about each other. These little things really helped make my in class courses better, but I didn’t notice any change in grades. Then of course we had the College Strike interrupt one semester and the following semester was compressed. My statistics showed the effects of these events on student grades.

Let's Take it From the Top!

So here we were in September 2018 in a fresh new semester that would be “normal” and I had my chance to try to equalize the playing field. As I was opening my online classes a few days early, and writing my welcome announcement, it occurred to me that I was advantaging my online students. Why shouldn’t I do the same for my in class course? 

Well, Welcome to You Too!

One of the things that happens first week is a lot of in and out of classes. Students are sampling. Online they can log on and see everything. If I wrote a welcome announcement for my in class students before class and told them a bit about the course, the assessments and what we would be doing the first class, maybe I could allow them to decide before class if this course was for them. 

So there it began. I didn’t really think anything of it until I suddenly got an email from one of my in class students two days before the first class telling me how excited he was to learn about the class and the subject. Well, that was odd. 

I found a very friendly group when I walked into class. Did my welcome message have anything to do with it? It was midway through the first class and during break one of my students came up to me and said, “Thank you for sending that email announcement about the course and first class. It really helped me. No one ever does that. I can tell you really care about students.” I was touched and kind of shocked that something so simple had made a difference.

New Ways of Communicating

I decided then that I would send a weekly wrap-up announcement/email after each class. My announcement basically thanked everyone for showing up and participating that week, the concepts we covered, the interactive things we may have done in class, a reminder to do the practice test for the week and then a bit about what was happening or due next week. Lots of students mentioned in class how helpful this was. I wondered, would it really make a difference?

There's Something Happening Here

Well I cannot be sure, but for the first time ever my in class course has outperformed my online course on the first test. The campus that generally has the highest grades has been surpassed by the campus that usually has lower grades. The difference in grades is only about 3%, but if we consider that generally campus X usually has 5% lower average than campus Y, that’s quite a difference. 

Maybe it is an anomaly…..or maybe I am learning and still evolving. It seems this old dog has a new bark and a few new tricks!





Thursday, February 7, 2013

Advancing Learning Presentation: Taming Information Overload through Curation

Advancing Learning May 2012 Presentation

Taming Information Overload through Curation (60 Minutes)

Mitchell Kapor, founder of the Electronic Frontier, wisely said that  “getting information off the internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant. Our instant-on, hyper-connected world provides us with millions upon millions of pieces of data anytime and anyplace in a simple click. But how do we sort through all that data to reach the relevant information we seek? Can we trust the “Googlebot” to give us or our students the best of what’s there?  How do we tame that massive overload of data?
The most valuable resource we have is community and shared resources. This workshop will introduce you to the curation community and the tools you’ll need to become an effective curator.  Some of the tools discussed will be twitter, delicious, facebook, pinterest, tweeted times,,,, zite, and flipboard.

Presenter: Karen Hamilton, Professor/Online Coordinator, School of Liberal Arts & Sciences, George Brown College.

Stuff I Learned at SXSW Interactive 2011 and My Presentation

A fragment or two about what I learned at SXSW.

My presentation at SXSW

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Who Owns Knowledge? Sheba wants to know

Testing out Blabberize- A fun application for kids and adults who have a hard time just being adult. Make your pictures speak. Voice by Dr. Evil

Education 2020 Project

Carla Cross, Karen Hamilton, Debbie Plested and Mary Rezk.

In this EduCitizenship 2020 proposal, we will prepare an innovative design and rationale for the school/learning environment of 2020 for the U.S. Department of Education. Specifically, we will articulate to the key stakeholders--administrators, teachers, parents, students, funding agencies -- the critical issues that will define the future of teaching and learning.

See the EDU2020 Website here

and a previous video created summer 2009- Who are the Millennials/

The Power of Web 2.10 and Instructional Videos

Jan 31, 2011 Presentation-  A look at three videos

Changes to the internet have enabled everyday users to produce content collaboratively or individually. Users today can share and re-purpose almost every type of media. For educators this creates challenges and opportunities. Rather than going to a library, buying a book or asking a teacher, students today most often go to places like YouTube for answers to their questions. How good are the instructional videos on YouTube? In this video we'll analyze three.

New Online Student Orientation Project for HRE472

Project as done for course but see it live here ( updated for new Blackboard)

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