An Interview with Jessica Knott: Teaching an Online Class on Course Development

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Introduction: On May 12 and 13, I had the opportunity to interview Jessica Knott, a PhD student in Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education (HALE) at Michigan State University. She is also an instructional designer with TechSmith Corporation’s Camtasia Relay team. She serves as ETCJ’s editor on Twitter and writes a column, “ETC, Twitter and Me.”

Jim Shimabukuro: I just logged in to the TEDxLansing website. Please tell us about the event and, more specifically, about your live online course.

Jessica Knott: I’m super fortunate to live in a vibrant city filled with doers, and TEDxLansing is kind of an embodiment of that. I’ve been on the core planning committee for the past two years and am consistently amazed at the big ideas and bright spots that are unearthed in the state of Michigan, which is consistently looked upon as bleak. TEDx events are local, and highlight what can be as well as what is. They’re incredible.

Lansing (or, East Lansing, rather) also happens to be the home of Michigan State University, where I am a PhD student in Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education (HALE). I focus on distance learning and instructor presence, and how organizational changes and the shifting landscape of higher education affects how we communicate with our students. EAD 315 is offered to HALE students and gives them the opportunity to create and teach an online or in-person course in student leadership theory and development. However, it’s more than just a workshop or seminar. This class is a challenge in every way. Students with no teaching experience are mentored through the process from start to finish, and students who already know the ropes have some freedom to explore and try new things, while creating a solid, challenging course for students requiring a four credit summer course. This is my second year teaching it, and I’ve already learned a lot about my teaching style and working with undergraduate students.

JS: How is this course delivered? Is it blended? Completely online?

JK: My instance of EAD 315 is fully online and delivers four credits of content in seven weeks. Highly accelerated!

JS: Fabulous! Without going into specific details, can you tell us a little more about your students? Who are they? How does EAD 315 fit in with their future goals? Are some having difficulty with the completely online technology? If yes, how do you accommodate them?

JK: They range from freshmen to seniors, some have even walked in their graduation ceremonies. For some, this grade is all that stands between them and the diploma, so stakes are high. They don’t actually have a problem with the technology, but I try to provide screencasts and tutorials for the things they might struggle with such as how to post to the discussion forum or how to send me a video response. I try to anticipate what they might need before they need it, and if they ask questions I respond with videos showing them how to do what they need. I work pretty hard to maintain a 24 hour turnover time to their questions within the seven-week course time.

JS: Are you using Twitter in your approach? Do you include Twitter or similar microblogging services as a medium for instruction?

JK: Being that I’m the Twitter editor for ETC you might think I would, but actually I don’t. I tell them I’m on Twitter, and I give it to them as a means to communicate with me and a way to know who I am, and to get a feel for me as a person, should they choose to do so or want more of that human interaction. But I don’t integrate Twitter into the teaching portion of the course. I don’t require them to sign up, or send them there seeking knowledge. I might tell them it’s a resource, but I don’t require it. I use it more as a tool for presence than a tool for content, if that makes sense. It’s there should they need or want it, but it’s on them to use it if they wish.

JS: What other media do you use? LMS? Blogs? FaceBook? Video/YouTube?

JK: The course is taught in the university-provided LMS, but I incorporate a variety of YouTube videos as well. I avoid Facebook for the purposes of the course, directing students to LinkedIn should they want to connect with me on a professional leadership level. We don’t blog, but we engage in some pretty rigorous discussions via the discussion forums in the course, and I also give them my Skype ID in case they want to talk one-on-one about some of the tougher things we look at like ethics and group dynamics. I really want them to challenge themselves and learn to seek out some of this knowledge on their own. I want them to feel uncomfortable in some ways, but give them a safe environment in which to do so. I try to run the course like a workplace, with some of the same expectations they’ll encounter when they leave the relatively sheltered walls of academia.

JS: If your students cover a wide range of ages, do you sense a difference between the “younger” and the “older” students in terms of attitude toward ICT?

JK: The only time I sense differences is in the students who encounter technical difficulties, or put their assignments off too long. I try to keep that from happening, but when it does, the reactions differ. Older students roll with it a little better than the younger (freshman/sophomore) ones. Teaching students not to chase the grade is difficult.

JS: I’m intrigued by your use of videos. Re the video responses that students send you — are these videos that students shoot on their own? Are they posted on YouTube for you and the class to view? When you “respond with videos showing them how to do what they need,” are these videos that you’ve made? What video hardware do you and your students use? What about video editing software?

JK: The videos are used as communication between my students and me. I use Jing, which is free, and encourage them to do the same. The time limit is five minutes so the files aren’t large and are easy to attach to messages. That way, only the student and I will see them. I can also create private dropboxes within which to exchange them. That has worked well, also. I’ve found that students will seek them out.

JS: WOW! I hadn’t heard about Jing. As an instructional designer with TechSmith Corporation, were you involved in the development? I just downloaded it and registered for the free account. I captured some photos, recorded a brief video, saved them in my Jing space, and emailed (“shared”) the links to myself. The design is excellent. It’s intuitive and amazingly easy to use. View the first instructional video and you’re off. It fills a need, and for online instruction, it’s an amazing tool! Please, tell me more.

JK: Haha! I’ve only been at TechSmith for a year, and I was using Jing long before that. I actually work at TechSmith because I liked their stuff so much in my instructional design work. Kind of an interesting journey. I wish I could say I was involved in the development. The team behind it is amazing.

JS: LOL! I had no idea Jing’s been around that long. As an experienced user, are there any changes that you’d like to see in Jing?

JK: Not really, because I use it for what it’s intended. I like the five minute limit because it keeps me focused. When I don’t have that, I tend to speak longer and lose the students’ interest. I need that structure to focus only on the big wins I want them to process.

JS: Would you say that, in general, students such as yours, preparing to teach in our nation’s schools, are expecting to use online approaches — blended or completely online — once they complete their degrees and enter the classroom? Would they feel “deprived” if they found themselves in classrooms with little or no access to the internet? Will this “new wave” of teachers force our schools to change? Or will they settle into the way things have always been?

JK: I think that depends on what and where they’re being taught. While a lot of these younger students are pretty gung ho to go forth and innovate technologically, they will be stymied in many cases by an aging infrastructure and restrictive technology rules. Perhaps even by the culture of co-workers who discourage them from using tech in their teaching. I’ve met several educators who felt ostracized by their colleagues for their use of technology, some were even shunned. There are a lot of challenges out there. Physical, structural and emotional.

JS: Jess, please consider doing a future article on “educators who [feel] ostracized by their colleagues for their use of technology.” This problem is seldom broached in public discussions. It needs airing. In any case, before we close, do you have any comments that you’d like to make before we end this interview?

JK: Thanks, Jim! Now, I guess I’d just encourage people to experiment! I talk to people a lot, and sometimes I hear teachers and professors saying things like “I just wish I could use this technology, I know my students would learn if I could use it.” I think that’s the wrong approach. Think about how to teach your students what they need to learn, then see what technologies might fit. I think we (myself included) sometimes get so hung up on what’s cool or new or fun that we forget to step back and look at what’s connecting. Sometimes it’s the simple things that make the students happiest. I’ve found when I’m listening to them, really listening, while I might not always like what they’re saying, the learning seems to be there and the course atmosphere is way happier. I’m fortunate to have this chance. I’d be interested to know if any of the ETC readers know of similar courses going on out there, that allow students to teach online like this!

JS: Thanks, Jess, for taking the time from your very busy schedule to talk with me. You leave us with food for thought: “Think about how to teach your students what they need to learn, then see what technologies might fit.” It seems we, as educators, often have it turned around, beginning with our current or projected technology and trying to figure out how to use it with students. Hopefully, we’ll receive comments on this interview from “readers [who] know of similar courses going on out there, that allow students to teach online.”

JK: Thanks, Jim! I’d love to keep the discussion going here on ETC Journal!

7 Responses

  1. It is tempting to skip this post and just leave it to reflected memories of online learning. One of the things that caught my eye was the diversity of students.

    When working with Seymour Papert , at the NFIE , NEA as a mentor, once at the Smithsonian, he caused interesting conflict by asking people to sit according to the dates of their birth, in the audience. You can be sure then the lecture, talk had something to do with that. It was amusing.
    There was a group in which I had my first significant online experience of diversity in online in education( Nasa and National Geographic do not count because that is subject specifit with rich resources)
    It was this.CILT – Home
    The Center for Innovative Learning Technologies (CILT) was founded in October 1997 with a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to stimulate the … –

    We were researchers, teachers, people in industry, and teams with funding toward a special initiative.

    One of the initiatives was developing online courses and we all, well most of us opted to take a course. Some of the people in the course were only known by areas of expertise.. and we had the best
    experience of breaking the silos.

    In conferences sometimes the people are shouting on mountain tops , giving a message. In the online , the way it was crafted we got to know the people and their ideas , and some of the ways in which they thought. We had water cooler discussins too.
    Best of all every six months we had a conference, but a conference with people you have been on line with is really different than face to face with no intimacy of thought.
    Bonnie Bracey Sutton

  2. Bonnie Bracey Sutton: “A conference with people you have been on line with is really different than face to face with no intimacy of thought.”

    Bonnie, this “intimacy of thought” is only understood by those who have shared their ideas online. Those who haven’t honestly can’t grasp how online can be superior to F2F. In fact, I know many of my online colleagues a lot better than I do some F2F ones that I’ve worked with for years. -Jim S

  3. The thing about establishing online intimacy is remarkable. When you actually meet the person, or are in a conference with the other person, its amazing.

    Claude I an talked on line before we met.
    That was during WSIS. We are off and on now, but not
    because we don’t understand each other.
    THe world has changed and there are so many 2.0
    applications and groups and people now.
    But the intimacy of thought was on line.

    That is something to be appreciated.
    jaems Paul Gee and I also exchanged lots of emails before we finally met. It was a great thing to meet.
    On Facebook I can keep in light touch with these friends based on the original intimacy of thought.

    I believe that it is also they way about people I have taught. I never reach out for the kids I have taught
    but the revelations that they make to me about when I taught them and what they remember is interesting. I guess as a good teacher you develop an connection which some students never, never forget. I could write you touching stories about reunions of students on line. I guess I felt like family to many. Bonnie

  4. That intimacy of thought is so critical, especially with the wide variance in student age and interest. Great term! I love teaching online, but figuring out that connection piece is crucial, and differs so widely based on delivery mechanisms, subjects and student development.

    Thanks for not skipping through! :)

  5. Thanks for the interesting interview. I teach large lecture courses in an urban business school and am thinking about using social media as an alternative to face-to-face attendance and participation in lecture. My goal is to encourage student engagement and try to reduce the apathy and dis-engagement that seems to be growing exponentially. Do you (or your readers) have any tips to share about how to use social media to encourage engagement in large courses (150-300 students)?

    • Hi, Jude,

      What type of lecture course do you teach (what subject)? Can it be made project-based, with a stress on students’ input?

      Just trying to graft social media onto one-way content delivery – e.g. publishing the recordings of your lectures in a blog and asking students to use comments (or a Facebook page that is Rss-fed by the blog) for feedbacks, queries, objections – is not likely to work very well.

    • Hi, Jude!

      What kinds of social media are you considering? Things like Twitter and Delicious, or are you thinking more along the lines of Facebook? ETC has some good articles on social media right here, and I can help you find some resources as well!

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