Humanizing Online Learning & Teaching in Times of Disruption

While I’d like to dive into this topic more because it is so critical (especially now), I am going to come back to it in the next week after our campus rolls out 48 remote instructional sessions to support all our faculty in moving to online.

For now, I want to share a resource that I would argue is essential as instructors move their instruction to a digital environment: Humanizing Online Learning & Teaching in Times of Disruption

The Practice and Design of “Humanizing” Learning Experiences

I was honored by an invitation from EdSurge to participate in a panelist discussion on How to Humanize Online Learning and Maximize Student Success (recording of webinar). I believe we had over 200 participants! As I reflect on yesterday’s panel conversation, and incredible participant comments and questions, I would have to say that my biggest takeaway around Humanizing is the word “caring”, as shared by my colleague, Di Xu. The concept of caring and empathy is woven throughout all the practices in Humanizing learning.

Given what the research tells us about the importance of Humanizing, intentionally and authentically humanizing the instruction is critical for students’ success.  In design, we can approach this through a variety of pedagogies, activities, and technologies that cultivate relationships and build community. I rely on many frameworks and theories, but one framework in particular is the Community of Inquiry (CoI) (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000), which looks at the intersection of teaching, cognitive, and social presence. I will speak to each of these through some examples.

With pedagogies, which is really about teaching presence, instructors can apply strategies that develop empathy and human connections. Essentially, this is about being authentic. A couple of examples that support this are:

  • Creating a welcome video where the instructor tells their story of who they are and perhaps their own experience as a student and how that has shaped their path.
  • Providing regular ‘touches’ or interactions with students. A personal example is in my online doctoral program where my instructor used video feedback. As a student, watching and listening to him, I truly felt like he was invested in my work, my growth in the course, and overall success. This was also conveyed in his non-verbals that can often be missed online

Along with pedagogies, we also humanize through the design of social learning activities. This emphasizes both social and cognitive presence. Creating opportunities where learners can collaborate with one another can connect them with one another and advance the learning outcomes because as construct meaning through shared purpose. This is also where instructors have opportunity to discover who their learners are, which is essential in connecting that cognitive element. Extending this to how they can inspire and reach them. An example of asocial learning activity is something I use in my blended, first year freshman course where humanizing is ever so important in creating a sense of belonging as these students transition into college life. In the first week, students participate in an online, asynchronous activity where they each “Share the Story of Their Name” supported by VoiceThread technology. Through video or audio they each share some aspect of their name, (e.g., where it comes from, what it means, background, nicknames, etc.) and reply to another another. I also share the story of my name as a way to connect to each of them. This is not only an early opportunity to bring themselves into the learning experience and share a bit of who they are, but it is also about celebrating and acknowledging the unique backgrounds and experiences that they each bring to the shared environment.

Finally, through the intersection of the pedagogy and the activities/content, we can leverage technologies to support the learning and connections. This is about how can we use digital tools to create opportunities where students feel like they belong in a community. One example is using digital technologies such as Issuu and Canvas to create an online, asynchronous “virtual conference”. (Remember the feeling you had at that great face-to-face conference where you networked others, shared your work, and walked away feeling inspired?) This is the premise behind the virtual conference where students present their culminating course experience/knowledge/skills by bringing in opportunity for peer-to-peer connections, insightful feedback, and a real-world interaction that shares their work more broadly.

Moving forward with Humanizing are these many opportunities to intentionally and authentically engage with our students. What are some of the things you do in your courses?


Another nugget that Dr. Xu shared from her research, were the five things that students want from their online instructor:

  1. Clear expectations and instructions
  2. Timely responses
  3. Feedback to keep them on track
  4. Rubrics and checklists
  5. Weekly communication

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based
environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and
Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.


Disrupting Learning Through Mobile Exploration

Excited to be facilitating a workshop on mobile learning at the CSU Symposium on University Teaching this month @CalPolyPomona! Get ready to go mobile in this session!

Here’s a sneak peek: How can we disrupt learning through discovery and exploration in ways that allows learners to engage with the world around them?

student using iPad and iPod for studying on a car road trip

Mobile Learner by kvlayton, 2015

Mobile technology allows this reach beyond the four walls of a physical classroom. In the Mobile Learning Scavenger Hunt activity, learners work together to discover and capture a variety of objects/visuals that represent motivational appeals closely tied to the emotions, needs, and values of their audience in persuasive speaking and writing.  Find out the results of students’ learning performance, as well as what they walked away with ‘beyond the grade’.


Encouraging Mobile Learning

A multi-year study at the University of Florida found some remarkable implications (Chen, Seilhamer, Bennett, & Bauer, 2015) that tell us to take a hard look at mobile for learning. Three key findings:  Increasing the use of mobile technologies in terms of campus apps and other resources; providing tech support for students; and providing  professional development for educators on mobile technologies and pedagogies.

Chen, B., Seilhamer, R., Bennett, L., & Bauer, S. (2015). Students’ Mobile Learning Practices in Higher Education: A Multi-Year Study by 2015. EDUCAUSE Review.


FLC on Ed Tech

The HSU Faculty Learning Community (FLC) on Enhancing Learning with Technology created an exchange for faculty members who wanted to get together, trade ideas, offer support, and reflect on the Big Picture — using tech tools in our classrooms. Teachers walked away with new ideas and a tech tool — tablet, camera, headset — to use with students. During one presentation, a handy typo appeared on the screen. An “A” had been inserted into the word “technology” making it “teachnology.”

FLC Ed Tech 2015

Making Student Connections with mLearning

At the 2014 Directors for Academic Technology/California Higher Education (DET/CHE) Conference in Long Beach, mobile learning was a hot topic.

In our session on Making Student Connections with Mobile, we shared various learning experiences used to support mobile learning efforts aimed at student engagement and success, both in, and outside of the classroom.  We also shared results of our ongoing efforts as they continue to strengthen connections with our students.  One of our intentions was to make the journey truly mobile by having audience interaction so we asked them to tweet questions, feedback, insight on information brought up using both or either of the hashtags.

In terms of leveraging mobile to engage students and enhance their learning experiences, we set out on a path to use mobile in a variety of different contexts as a way to:

  • increase faculty/staff skills and experiences
  • build campus community conversations
  • make student learning connections

and ultimately supporting student success. Over the last several years, we have worked with a number of different mLearning formats, including learning communities, BYOD informal discussions, and one-on-one work with faculty in their classrooms. This presentation will focus on our work in these areas in support of mobile learning.

In 2011 and 12 we facilitated both a campus user group on mobile technologies with a focus on how to use the mobile devices to support learning and teaching, and a faculty learning community on mobile technologies, which focused on faculty exploration of mobile technologies for teaching, learning and personal productivity.

In 2014, we facilitated a Faculty Learning Community (FLC) on mLearning. 12 multidisciplinary faculty, 5 facilitated sessions, online classroom with mobile explorations. A concentrated effort to provide a safe space for faculty to engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning – exploring, applying, sharing and reflecting on mobile as a method to enhance student learning. The outcomes focused on creating, implementing, sharing, and reflecting on a mobile lesson during the semester, and then sharing experiences with the larger campus community.

Results: collection of mLessons and explored apps to share with campus, follow-up discussion session at our semi-annual professional development event, led into 1-1 work with faculty classrooms.

We have also begun hosting monthly Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) sessions – informal, open-mike format, themes focused on facilitating and sharing mobile technology use in the classroom/workplace. Next term we will form a partnership with the University Library to create collaborative Un-conference formats.

One of the places where we’ve made the most connections with students in terms of mobile learning, is the one-on-one design work with faculty.  In three sections of Geology 106 (one fully online and two face-to-face sections)
DET/CHE 14: mLearning Connections – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Mobile Learning Scavenger Hunt

mobile learning

Mobile Learning Scavenger Hunt

Kimberly Vincent-Layton
Humboldt State University, Department of Communication
June 2014

In the last few years, I have been slightly obsessed with mobile learning for two reasons. One, I have three daughters (two in college) who spend every waking moment on their mobile devices (iPhone, iPads, laptops) – how can I connect to them? Maybe it’s a case of, you can’t beat ‘em so you may as well join them? Two, I am a “technology-geek” and work full-time in instructional design, while teaching part-time for the Department of Communication. Those reasons are extremely intertwined, of course. We use our mobile devices for communication!

For the last two semesters, I have been having a lot of fun (and success!) with my Mobile Learning Scavenger Hunt lesson in my public speaking class. Students absolutely love it! When we approach the final course topic of persuasion, students typically get caught up in trying to figure out which of the four types of reasoning to use in their speech, and often neglect the very important aspect of appealing to their audience. I tell them, you can use all the fancy persuasion and reasoning you want, but if you can’t appeal to your specific audience, it is all for nothing. In order to be an effective speaker, it is important to consider the emotional impact we have on our audience, as well as relate our ideas to their emotions, needs, and values. In order to do this, we need to find out what is meaningful to our audience so we can relate to them.

The goal of the Mobile Learning Scavenger Hunt lesson is to work together as a team to discover and capture a variety of objects and/or visuals that include motivational appeals. In 80 minutes, students scour the campus looking for objects/visuals that appeal to needs and values, capture them using a mobile app of their choice, publish, and submit the URL to our class online discussion forum. We use the last 20 minutes of class to share and reflect on all the team videos. Some favorite apps have been Animoto, YouTube Capture, Flipagram, Instagram, and Vine. We discuss: is the object/visual effective/persuasive to the target audience?  What motivational appeal is it an example of? Students are required to provide written feedback in the online discussion forum on at least one team’s video before our next class session. After two semesters of this activity, students had significant improvement in appealing to the audience needs/values in their persuasive speech. Additional benefits include: building community, collaboration, learning new technologies.

To create this lesson, I used a mobile learning lesson template that I created a few years ago after completing my SLOAN-C Mobile Learning Mastery Series.  The template includes everything from the goal and outcomes of the activity to the various technology considerations.  The template can be modified for any mobile lesson.

Check out the full lesson on Motivational_Appeals mLesson. Happy mobile-ing!