WISE Excellence in Online Teaching Award Recipients
Best Practices – 2011

Lilia Pavlovsky, Rutgers University
Social Informatics, Summer 2011

Best Practices: Teaching is about cultivating an environment that motivates students to learn. Teaching online is about doing this in a digitally mediated context where the design of learning spaces is critical to fostering interaction and engagement in a virtual classroom. I put as much effort into the design of my classes as I do in teaching them. My classes all contain spaces for public discussion, collaborative teamwork and private reflection. One ”best practice” that I consistently follow it is the idea that I can always improve my online classroom. A feedback mechanism that is built into all my courses gives students a way to make constructive suggestions for improvement. I also closely monitor technological developments to ensure that I am using the best available tools. The tools I use range from online resources such as Google or Diigo and other collaborative spaces, to screencasts that I create. Most of my classes undergo revision on an annual basis. I also believe that instructor engagement is a critical component in a successful online course. I make sure that I talk privately with each student at least once a week through assignments and journal reflections. I also participate in all weekly discussions. My presence establishes trust and opens communication channels. Students are never expected to sit alone at a virtual desk and memorize information. Instead they are challenged to master the material, engage in critical thinking and apply what they learn in a way that best fits their professional and personal goals and objectives.

What Professor Pavlovsky’s students say: “Lilia developed a very interesting course. She used the online format very well by including videos that she made to explain content, by developing discussion forums and a social content sharing site (diigo) where the students in the course were able to provide even more educational material to share, and using an easy to navigate format for locating each week's course content. She responded quickly to questions I sent via email regarding assignments. I learned a whole lot from this class and really enjoyed the assignments, especially the final video project. The group assignment was also a wonderful experience in which we developed a lesson for our classmates. The journals and discussion forums were wonderful modes to reflect and share what I was learning. I found myself missing the course soon after it ended for all of the relevant content the students and professor shared every day. Lilia is an intelligent, organized, and friendly professor who taught this particular course very well.”

Ellen Detlefsen, University of Pittsburgh (repeat recipient)
Information Sources, Services, and Technology for an Aging World, Fall 2011

Best Practices: For this all-online course on “Information Sources, Services & Technology for an Aging World,“ I tried to use a mix of assignments and discussions that promoted sharing amongst classmates - a quartet of monthly online book discussions, book and movie reviews, site visits to “real world“ libraries and senior centers, peoples' choice awards with real prizes, snail mail communiqués, and a weekly audio file in the form of an extended conversation, etc. Keeping to a firm weekly schedule encouraged students to stay current with the class and frequent emails allowed me to establish personal connections one on one, especially with a group of students whom I never saw in person. Treating them as colleagues in cyberspace was the goal!

What Professor Detlefsen’s students say: “This was one of the most interactive courses I have taken in my graduate program thus far. The assignments were constructed first and foremost to convey empathy towards older people. Professor Detlefsen is passionate about her topic, she keeps up to date with her topic, and she makes her topic accessible for her students. The hands-on assignments were my favorite aspect of the course. It was a treat to occasionally get assignments via snail mail and to look at all types of media from the perspective of older people. There was an extra credit exercise where we had to simulate the discomfort of old age, which for a hands- on learner like me was fantastic. The site visit assignment came about after I had moved to a new community and it enabled me to begin to learn about my new community from some knowledgeable people. Professor Detlefson herself is patient, flexible, and encouraging. I am glad that I had the opportunity to be taught by her, and I would recommend her teaching style to anybody.”

Meredith Farkas, San Jose State University (repeat recipient)
Information Technology Tools and Applications - Topic: Web 2.0, Summer 2011

Best Practices: I'm a big believer that participatory (Web 2.0) technologies are perfect tools for decreasing the sense of distance between students and creating a true constructivist learning community online. Students in my class blog weekly and comment on each other's reflections on what they're learning. Those peer interactions are at the heart of the learning experience. Student blog posts are not something separate from the classroom or buried in the classroom, but ARE the classroom. Their conversations have as much weight on the classroom site as my own writing. My role is to create a positive learning environment for everyone, which sometimes means intervening to prevent problems and other times hanging back to allow the free flow of ideas between students. It can be difficult to find that happy medium between autonomy and control in a constructivist classroom, but it's worth adjusting my approach to support the learning community. Blogs seem to enable students to create a stronger sense of social presence and community online, and it's been wonderful seeing my students continue to connect with one another (and the topics from class) via Twitter, blogs and other Web 2.0 technologies once the class is over.

What Professor Farkas’s students say: “Meredith was very welcoming and encouraged interactions both with herself and amongst the students in the class. She created a curriculum that focused on practical applications of what we were learning. She responded to each student's blog post each week, which I imagine took a great deal of time and effort, but had the result of making sure everyone was included in the conversation, that no one's comments were ignored. She posed good questions for us to ponder; she both supported and challenged us. Most importantly for an online class, she laid out clear guidelines for each assignment (providing learning objectives, background reading, tools and environments to explore, activities to practice what we had learned, and clear expectations for grading) and responded quickly to any questions or concerns that arose. She also provided detailed feedback on assignments. Her methods of teaching catered to various learning styles, as (for example) she provided podcasts and text scripts for lectures, visual explanations of topics, tools for kinesthetic learners to try out on their own, video tutorials for visual learners, and reading and blog posts for reflective learners to have time to respond. I was actually able to apply much of what I learned in this course to my job in a library as well as to my personal life. I was exposed to various web 2.0 tools that I never would have considered using if I had not taken this class. By being able to explore these tools in a supportive environment where we could talk about practical applications, I found that I had a much more open attitude towards these technologies. Going along with the practical side of the class, Meredith exposed us to a lot of great online resources, many of them other people (librarians) with blogs or websites. Because of this class, I am more aware of trends in the library profession and have a system for keeping up with changes and subjects specific to my interests. I also use some of the tools we learned about in class (Twitter, Google Reader) in order to learn more about the profession and to subscribe to job postings for when I graduate. Meredith did not view this as just a class in school, but as a group learning experience which each individual could benefit from throughout their career.”

Ellen Greenblatt, San Jose State University
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer/Questioning (GLBTQ) Resources and Services, Fall 2011

Best Practices: This past fall semester, my WISE offering was a course on “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer/Questioning (LGBTIQ) Resources and Services.“ My aim in this class is to work with students to explore methods of enhancing services and evaluating resources for these traditionally underserved groups of library users. Communication and collaboration are core components of my teaching style, and I strive for both active and authentic learning experiences. The focal point of the course is our weekly class discussion. To encourage critical thinking, I structure the course so that students read the materials and complete their assignments the week before the discussion begins. This gives students some time to “live“ with the topics and issues before plunging into the forum. Many students have told me that they believe this practice makes the discussions much more meaningful. Students have several opportunities for interaction, such as critiquing each other's pathfinders and collaborating with one another to facilitate particular discussion topics and assess forum participants. Active and authentic learning experiences include participating in a “scavenger hunt“ of the collections of an LGBTIQ archive (through a 9-part video tour) and learning about Internet filtering first-hand as a library user and reflecting on the situation.

What Professor Greenblatt’s students say: “Ellen was by far the best online professor I've ever had; she provided prompt and meaningful feedback, assigned work with depth, and challenged us to consider many facets of librarianship.”

Adele Barsh, University of Pittsburgh
Collection Development for Academic Libraries, Summer 2011

Best Practices: A central feature of the online learning process is to make it user-centered as much as possible, so I look for ways to incorporate real-life examples that will make the theoretical concepts easy to apprehend. I use these examples to spark student interest and motivation to learn more, expand their exposure to the range of what actually goes on in libraries, and encourage their ability to see how knowing “the theoretical“ underpinnings can prepare them to handle “the everyday“ in librarianship. I also think the best educational processes in a virtual environment are both collaborative and self-driven, so I challenge the students to teach each other in small groups, with the goal that they learn to trust themselves when they take responsibility for their learning. My online courses are designed to give them many opportunities to gain the skills of peer sharing, strong communication, and how to take leadership in group learning, because those skills will be essential to success throughout their profession lives. This work also fosters the building of their peer (and soon to be professional) network around learning topics, which in turn contributes to a sense of collegiality, both in class and beyond graduation. One of my personal goals is to maintain an awareness of the student perspective of the online environment, so that I may use their feedback continuously to improve their experience. Navigating an online course environment can be complicated for students, so I keep striving for that ideal where the technological infrastructure adds to, not detracts from, the learning process

What Professor Barsh’s students say: “The instructor delivered thoughtful, informative lectures with slides and video. All of the assignments were useful, contextualized through course reading, and helped us engage with real activities that collection specialists would have to do.”

Michelle Holschuh Simmons, San Jose State University (repeat recipient)
Seminar in Information Science: Information Literacy, Fall 2011

Best Practices: A student once told me that some online classes felt like being in a classroom in which all the desks faced the walls, because the instructor had not created a learning environment that fostered interaction among the learners. I try to keep this image in mind when I am teaching, and I incorporate several teaching strategies to be sure that the students in my virtual classroom do not feel this way. For example, I try to incorporate humor in my lectures and interactions with students, and I encourage them to do the same in their assignments and discussion posts. Additionally, I try to share something about my personal life each week at the beginning of my lecture, such as a brief anecdote about one of my kids. I encourage students to share their own news in a "coffee break" discussion forum, and I make a point of responding to each of those posts. I find that teaching in an online environment to be incredibly rewarding, but it requires significant efforts to establish and foster a learning community.

What Professor Holschuh Simmon’s students say: “Michelle is one of the best professors that I have had in my master's program. It is unfortunate that she does not teach at my school so I could take all her courses! She sets out her expectations very clearly and chooses her assignments with care. All the assignments we do have direct relevance for the jobs that we might have in the future as well as providing us with the theoretical background we need to ground our practices. She gives prompt, clear, constructive, and supportive feedback on our work and challenges us to do our best work. Throughout the class she set up the online environment so that we could all learn effectively and without getting hung up on technology issues. I enjoyed her enthusiasm for the class and her obvious care for her teaching and research.“

“Dr. Simmons is one of the most dedicated teachers I have ever known. Despite being geographically far away from her students, she makes herself more available than professors I see in person each day. She is incredibly supportive and helpful, and her lessons are very clear. She creates a dynamic online space where all students feel comfortable contributing. I really enjoyed her class, and I'm sorry that I cannot take another with her. ”

Patrick W. Fitzgibbons, Syracuse University
Information Architecture for Internet Services, Summer 2011

Best Practices: Helping students to develop a deep understanding for any subject occurs through an open sharing of ideas and a judicious approach to discipline. When the voice of each student is heard, and environment evolves where students feel free to express themselves. Online class discussion boards are one way to encourage such dialogue. In setting fair and consistent rules initially and stating the importance of every activity, students are shown respect for their presence and time. In turn they learn to respect themselves, others, and their environment.

What Professor Fitzgibbon’s students say: “Dr Fitzgibbons was a fun and flexible instructor. He provided materials in a variety of formats to support multiple learning styles. He chose interesting and relevant texts. And, his assignments were designed to build on previous knowledge so by the end of the semester, we had gained experience with a number of different IA deliverables. His course was relevant to students pursuing digital librarianship, and I was able to use several of his assignments in my e-portfolio for my culminating experience at SJSU.”

Jill Hurst-Wahl, Syracuse University
Creating and Managing Digital Assets, Spring 2011

Best Practices: Early in the class, students learn about each other as a cohort and begin to build personal connections with each other. This helps the discussion to be personal, respectful and fun, as well as informative. This also makes it a safe environment for students to discuss their points of view and include information gathered from their experience with the subject. Besides connecting them to each other, I often incorporate announcements and information about SU/iSchool events, and photos of the campus. Students appreciate these connections to campus, which help to bridge the distance. Most importantly, I work to make the content interesting and relevant through examples I have gleaned from the practice of my peers and from the work I have done as a practitioner.

What Professor Hurst-Wahl’s students say: “Her class was very well organized, and the lectures were helpful. She listened to every student's questions and answered them thoroughly.”

John Wagstaff, University of Illinois (repeat recipient)
Music Librarianship and Bibliography, Spring 2011

Best Practices: Over the past couple of years I've been trying to more fully exploit the features that our distance-learning software can offer, and last year I used guest speakers for the first time in my music librarianship class. Having guest speakers like this is obviously a great way to enhance your students' learning experience, because it puts them in touch with people who are experts in a particular area of librarianship and doesn't rely on the (faulty) notion that the course instructor is equally expert in all areas of the subject being taught. Being able to patch in guest speakers is a great way to exploit one of the best features of the online learning environment.
On the basis of last year's experience, my “best practice“ tips for outside speakers would be: (i) make sure your speakers know exactly what you want them to talk about in the class; (ii) have a (fairly) clear idea of how long you want their class contribution to last, but if the discussion takes an interesting turn, don't be afraid to let the session run a little longer than planned; (iii) particularly if you have an inexperienced speaker, send them some specific questions in advance, and try to think of a very basic and easy first question to put them at their ease; (iv) encourage your students, throughout the speaker's session, to ask questions; and (v) keep a record of the main points the speaker is making by putting notes on the electronic whiteboard, or in the “instant messaging“ area.

What Professor Wagstaff’s students say: “Professor Wagstaff constantly brought his knowledge and love of music librarianship to our weekly online sessions. He was smart, funny and very helpful when a student had a question or concern. His teaching techniques truly benefited everyone in the virtual classroom.“

“John Wagstaff was incredibly engaging across a platform that was unfamiliar to most of the students in the course. The course was organized in a way that helped me understand exactly what a career in Music Librarianship would entail. I really appreciated his wisdom and expertise, his availability, his encouraging attitude, and his enthusiasm for the material. This is also a course that has no equivalent anywhere near my program. His wonderful teaching style and extensive experience in the area made this course a very unique opportunity.”