Before Beginning #EDUMOOC: Tips for Participants

In just over 2 days, over 1,000 participants from three dozen countries have sign-up for participate in the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) devoted to exploring Online Learning Today…and Tomorrow! There has been a lot of buzz over this latest MOOC, hashtag #EDUMOOC. For those who have never participated in a MOOC before, you’re in for a treat as this will be an online learning experience unlike any other.

If you are new to MOOCs, take a few minutes to view these brief videos by Dave Cormier that answer the questions “What is a MOOC?” and “What is ‘success’ in a MOOC?

I can’t stress enough the importance, as Dave described in his video, of defining for yourself how you will define ‘success’ in the learning experience and in being proactive in adding your contributions to the conversation, as well as reading others’ contributions and commenting. Here are my top 5 tips for others preparing to embark on #EDUMOOC:

  1. Setup a blog (if you don’t already have one) and post to it. While we do have a Google Group for this MOOC, if you are looking to build your personal learning network beyond the scope of this course, it’s helpful to have your own online home where your conversations (ie: your initial posts and replies) can persist long after the MOOC is over. So, if you’ve not already done so, setup a blog using a free tool like Blogger, WordPress, Posterous, Tumblr, etc. This may sound obvious, but once you setup your blog, go ahead and post to it…at least once per week during the MOOC. I personally plan to spend more time on Twitter than the Google Group or blogging, but will post my reflections and more lengthy conversation contributions to my blog and then post the link on Twitter. On my WordPress blog, I use the free WordTwit plugin that automatically tweets each new blog post I make.
  2. Give Twitter a try. You’ll find during this MOOC that there will be a variety of different locations where conversations will be taking place and Twitter will no doubt be one of the most active. If you’ve never tried Twitter before, now is your chance to give it a try! Sign-up for a free account at twitter.com and include in any of your course-related tweets the hashtag #edumooc. You can then search Twitter, either at twitter.com or on any of the Twitter apps, the course hashtag #edumooc to see the entire flow of “tweets” related to the course.

    A great place to learn more about Twitter is to take a look at the archived presentations and links for the session, Using Twitter for Teaching, Learning, and Professional Development in Higher Education that David Wicks, Skip Via, and I offered this past January where explored best practices for using Twitter in teaching, learning and professional development.

  3. Let people know of your posts!. When you post to your blog, be sure to let the rest of the EDUMOOC community know that you’ve made your contribution to your blog. The easiest way is to share a link to your post on Twitter, using the hashtag for the MOOC, #edumooc. You also can reply to the thread for the week in the Google Group with your contribution.
  4. Bookmark online resources of interest. When you come across online resources that others are sharing that are of interest to you, bookmark the links using a social bookmarking service. I personally use Diigo and have found it to be a fantastic way to create my own digital online locker of resources that I can then access in the future. When you bookmark an online resource, use the course tag edumooc.
  5. Set boundaries for yourself. The larger the MOOC, the easier it is to easily become overwhelmed with the amount of resources shared and volume of conversations that take place. Don’t feel like to have to keep up on everything that’s happening in the course. Set goals for yourself and give yourself permission to get out of the course what you need from the course. I personally plan to set aside 30 mins. per day to check Twitter and read through the previous day’s contributions to the Google Group to stay up-to-date on the conversations and to participate. Remember that the more you contribute, the more you will in turn find others engage with you.

Those are just a few of my tips…what other tips do you have for individuals preparing to participate in a MOOC? Leave a comment with your tips, or better yet, post your own on your blog and leave a comment here with a link to your list!

If you’ve signed-up for #EDUMOOC and stumbled across this blog post, leave a comment and say hello! MOOCs are all about connections and networking with others!! You can also fine me on Twitter @jrhode or Facebook at facebook.com/jasonrhodephd

**UPDATE 6/23 – I’ve recorded a couple of screencast tutorials and posted here with a few more details on how to get started with the Google Group, as well as setting up Google Alerts and subscribe to see what those who are blogging during #EDUMOOC are saying**

My First ePub – Interactive Course Syllabus in E-book Form

Attending a recent Apple Education Seminar, “Mobility with iPads at Illinois Institute of Technology” earlier this week, I learned of the relative easy process for creating an ePub file using Pages on a Mac.

For those who aren’t familiar with ePub, it is a free, open e-book standard that is quickly becoming the universal format for ebooks. ePub is the format that Apple’s iBooks app reads and offers some very interesting capabilities for information distribution in mobile formats beyond the traditional PDF format.

To try creating an ePub for myself, I took a look at Apple’s instructions for creating ePub files using Pages. I then downloaded the “ePub Best Practices” sample Pages document and used that as a template to create my ePub.

I decided to take an existing syllabus I had created for a recent online course, Social Networking in Online Learning, and create an interactive ebook version of the syllabus. Here’s a brief tour of the finished ePub file viewed on an iPad and iPhone:

This ePub is an item in my course podcast feed, available in iTunes here or via the RSS feed.

Or, the ePub can be downloaded directly from http://dl.dropbox.com/u/7112775/%7Esn/syllabus.epub

The source Pages document that I used to create the ePub from can be downloaded from http://edtechsandbox.com/~sn/syllabus.pages

In a later post, I’ll share a tour of the Pages ePub template document and the details to be aware of in formatting an ebook in ePub format.

**UPDATE 3/12/11 – Tutorial demonstrating steps to create an ePub using Pages is available at jasonrhode.com/howtoepub

How to Send Text Messages to Students via Email for Free

I’m intrigued by the increasing growth in the use of SMS (ie: text messaging) in mobile communications and it’s implications for online learning. I’ve recently been experimenting with providing my students the ability to contact me via text message (sms) as well as to allow them to opt-in to receiving course-related news and reminders as text messages from me. I’ve explored several different work flows and options for accomplishing this and am sharing here the text messaging approaches I’ve tried thus far.

Google Voice

First off, I setup a free Google Voice account at http://voice.google.com using my Google Account. When setting up a Google Voice account, I received a phone number that I can give out that when called, simultaneously rings any of my phone numbers that I wish. I setup my Google Voice number to simultaneously ring my work phone and mobile phone. My Google Voice phone number is in fact is the phone number that I give out to all of my students to contact me if needed.

What I also realized is that in addition to voice calls, I can also receive send and receive text messages from my Google Voice phone number for free! So, if my students send a text message to me at my Google Voice number, it goes to my Google Voice account.

I also installed the free Google Voice app on my iPhone so that now when I receive a text message at my Google Voice phone number, it shows up in my Google Voice app.  I can then choose to send a reply back if I wish, again for free directly from the Google Voice app. Here’s the home screen of my iPhone with the push notification that I’ve received a new text message in Google Voice.

Launching the app, I see a preview of the message that I can click on it to read the complete message. My Google Voice Inbox also contains any other voicemails that I may have received at my Google Voice phone number.

With my Google Voice app, if I have my students’ mobile phone numbers, I can send them text messages for free from my Google Voice app. This is a great free solution and allows me to give my students and single phone number to reach me at, either voice or text message.  However, I was also looking for the ability to more quickly broadcast a text message to all my students who opt-in to receiving such messages.

SMS Email Gateways

Nearly every mobile phone carrier provides free delivery of text messages using a sms gateway.  The list of SMS gateways at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_SMS_gateways tells which email address to use if you want to send an email and have it arrive as a text message on someone’s phone. The number must contain no punctuation. For instance, to send to a number typically expressed in the USA as 987-555-0100, you would email 9875550100@SMS-gateway.

I invited my students to opt-in to receiving text messages from me by simply emailing me their mobile phone number and carrier.  The carrier part is important, as each carrier has a different SMS gateway. As each student sends me their phone phone number and carrier, I lookup the SMS gateway for their carrier and add the sms email address to my list of email addresses for the class.

Then, to send a text message to my students, I simply launch my email client and copy/paste their sms email addresses in the BCC field and then enter my message to be sent in the body of the email.  It’s important to remember that text messages are limited to 160 characters, so emails sent via sms with more than 160 characters will be truncated beyond 160 characters.

I opted to not include a subject in my email as many phones don’t display the subject. Upon sending the email, each student receives the email as a text message.

This is the option that I’ve preferred to use for sending announcements as text messages to students.  I’ve also send personalized feedback to students using this same work flow.

Twitter

A third option for allowing students to receive course news and announcements via text message is to setup a Twitter account for the class where news and announcements will be posted and then make use of Twitter’s built-in follow via sms feature.  I gave this a try for my Illinois Online Network Spring 2011 “Social Networking in Online Learning” advanced online seminar.  This course introduced Twitter to students, so it made sense to try Twitter’s sms delivery capabilities.

I setup a Twitter account for the course at http://twitter.com/ionsn1111 where I posted course-related news and announcements.  I then posted the following message in Moodle for my students:

Are you the type of person that prefers to receive text messages over email? Did you know that you can receive our course news announcements that I post to Twitter at http://twitter.com/ionsn1111 also as text messages to your mobile phone? Simply text “follow @ionsn1111” to 40404 to receive all future course announcements as text messages.

If you’d like to try out this feature of Twitter and then later no longer want to continue receiving the text messages, you can text “OFF @ionsn1111” to 40404 and you’ll no longer receive the messages.

Here’s what the text message sent looks like, as well as the automated receipt send to subscribers confirming that they are subscribed. New subscribers also receive the latest message posted to the Twitter account for the class.

Students don’t need to have a Twitter account!  They will receive all future tweets posted to the class Twitter account as text messages.  Using Audioboo to tweet audio announcements, students in this course subscribed using via sms also received audio announcements!

This third option using Twitter is perhaps the simplest for the instructor as the students need to take the responsibility to follow the course Twitter via sms and the instructor simply posts to the class’ Twitter feed.  The drawbacks are that this approach doesn’t allow the instructor the flexibility to send a text message to an individual student and students can choose to un-follow course news via sms.

Overall Impressions

I’ve found my experiment with communicating with students via sms thus far to be a very positive one and I plan to continue making use of sms for communicating with my students in the future. I’m curious to hear at the end of the course feedback from my students who tried the texting experiment their thoughts on the value of texting in fostering social presence in our online community.  I’ll be collecting feedback from my students and will continue to refine my texting practices and plan to share my findings in the future.

I’d love to hear from others who also are using text messaging in their teaching. Do you currently make use of text messages in your teaching?  If so, what work flow works best for you?

Also, if you found my instructions here useful, leave me a comment and let me know your experience!

Ideal Online Social Networking Course

I’m collecting ideas and suggestions for a 1 month professional development course I’m designing that will cover social networking strategies for distance learning.

Here are a few details about the course…

  • 4 week course taught as an advanced online seminar offered by Illinois Online Network as part of the Making the Virtual Classroom a Reality course series
  • 4 modules, 1 week per module
  • 5 to 10 hours per week of engagement and interaction time to justify 4 continuing education units that would be granted for it
  • all required “textbook” readings should be freely available online
  • Moodle will serve as the learning management system for the course, but other free social networking technologies can be incorporated where they add value to the course
  • target date for course to launch: March 2010

What would the ideal online social networking course consist of? What texts/readings should be included? What technologies should be discussed? What activities should students engage in?

Leave a comment here with your ideas, suggestions, and resources! I’m also collecting suggestions on Google Wave at the wave titled, “Ideal online social networking course?” that is available by searching with:public tag:ion

Growth of Online Learning in Higher Ed

As Allen and Seamen (2008) note, online education has continued to experience steady and sustained growth and shows no signs of slowing anytime soon. I’ve personally found through my own experience that in these particularly challenging times for higher education, institutions are increasingly looking to online education as one way to not increase revenue but also expand course offerings. Allen and Seamen’s findings support the common approach among higher education institutions today to strategically implement online learning in overall programmatic development efforts.

Not only are institutions embracing online education today, but students are also flocking to online modes of learning in record numbers. As noted, over one-fifth of all higher education students are now taking at least one online course (Allen & Seamen, 2008). A primary reason why online education may be so popular especially among adult, non-traditional learners is the flexibility that it affords. The learner can continue his or her education while still continuing a career and maintaining other personal commitments.

What other factors do you suspect may be contributing to the steady growth of online education in higher education? Post a comment with your thoughts!

Reference:

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2008). Staying the course: Online education in the United States, 2008. Needham, MA: Sloan-C. Retrieved June 17, 2009, from http://www.sloan-c.org/publications/survey/staying_course