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SUNY Effective Online Practices Award Program

With more traditional students taking online degrees, the needs of online students are changing. Students are now looking for a fuller college experience beyond the usual links to campus resources and services. As one student stated, “It would be nice if the online student were included with campus (brick & mortar) student’s events, anything that shows we are just as important and equal to the brick & mortar… activities to make me feel like a true student of SUNY Canton.”

At the same time, institutions are struggling with the challenge to retain students in their online programs. Both traditional and nontraditional online students are more likely to drop out of their programs than their classroom counterparts due to feelings of isolation. To reduce isolation and increase retention, SUNY Canton developed a “campus life” model for connecting online students to the campus community. This model, using engagement strategies mapped to the different dimensions of campus life (academic, social, and co-curricular) showcases effective practices for building community for students limited by time and geography.

Funds from an Innovative Instruction Technology Grant (IITG) were used to launch the model fall 2017; outcomes will continue to be assessed throughout spring 2018.

This innovative composition pedagogy is designed to prepare students for writing in multimodal environments by creatively integrating emerging computer technologies into first-year college composition courses.
Coined in the mid-1990s by the New London Group, multiliteracies are abilities to orchestrate various meaning-making modes. In the digital age, multiliteracies become a powerful skill set to maximize creativity of expression by allowing writers to mix, match, or replace texts with audio, video, and other different modes (New London Group, 1996). Accordingly, multiliteracies help writers enrich their writing creatively and find effective communication platforms for different audiences. Accordingly, multiliteracies have been recognized as the core of 21st century literacy skill set by the National Council of Teachers of English and a must-have outcome of first-year composition by the Council of Writing Program Administrators.
However, the first-year composition course at my institution is heavily weighted in conventional text-based expository writing. A documented argumentative essay is one of the typical writing requirements. Thus, with the aim of fostering first-year composition students’ multiliteracies and creativity, I have explored effective composition pedagogies that transform first-year composition from heavily text-based to creatively multimodality-enriched.

My adoption of Excelsior College’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) and Online Reading Comprehension (ORC) lab as my primary text for my ALP courses meets head-on a number of factors threatening this particular population of students’ success and retention. The OWL/ORC is an Open Educational Resource, which means it is free and immediately accessible to students who might otherwise be unable to afford a textbook. Further, because it is an OER, it is flexible, meaning I can tailor and adjust my use of it to the specific needs of my students. It is multimodal and interactive, speaking to the ways in which 21st century learners interact with information. Because it is available digitally, it provides the kind of “just in time” feedback at-risk students need as they work through conceptual challenges. Further, it’s a resource they can—and do—transfer to their other courses, helping them to recognize the nuances of the writing situation and the myriad ways they are always doing writing. Finally, the OWL and ORC offer a rich array of downloadable and printable handouts and transcripts which can be compiled and provided to students who desire hard copies of the material.

Bridging the psychological, instructional, and emotional chasm that can be present in online instruction has been my biggest challenge in my almost 20 years of teaching online. Although I use and publish about many different emerging technologies (videos, wikis, socially-networked instruction), the most compelling pedagogical advances have come from the use of avatar-navigated virtual-reality (VR) environments. Here I create an open-source, accessible, affordable, personal “classroom” experience. My students and I share ideas, presentations, poster sessions, virtual tours, guest speakers, and even building and development in a non-hierarchical, comfortable environment (very different from instructor-dominated webinars and Skype sessions). Most recently, Dr. Jelia Domingo has had her students working within my virtual island. And, in my VR-development course over 20 students have created their own VR environments, continuing to share with me a collective and emerging sense of the new pedagogical dimensions coming forward through 2d/3d virtual and even augmented realities, becoming an informal think tank envisioning completely new approaches to teaching and learning, all 100% online. I challenge Open SUNY and SUNY to join me this semester in an immersive adventure, coming to my world and taking my mini-course.

Since coming to SUNY Empire State College in 2010 and subsequently joining International Programs (Dominican Republic, Turkey, Lebanon, and Cyprus) in 2014, I have spent a significant amount of time developing expertise around the scholarship of national and international teaching and learning, including research in OER development and design, PLA assessment, Digital Anthropology, and Virtual Exchange opportunities for students. I am a firm believer that every experience in academia can lead to new and innovative ways of teaching and mentoring students. Teaching to me is truly a collaborative process, which can only be successful if it is built on a reciprocating, mutually respectful relationship. I believe that all students should be given access to learning and education, no matter their situation in life, location in the world, and access to wealth. My approach to teaching and emphasis on OERs, cross-cultural communication, and international virtual exchange opportunities has enhanced the learning process for students.

"As institutions continue to pilot and implement models where students in remote or satellite locations join an existing on-campus classroom through a videoconferencing system, the literature shows that these environments fall short as an extension of that classroom. It is not enough to add video conferencing technology where the remote students end being spectators and can easily disappear (Gillies, 2008); or where students physically present with the instructor are ignored to, unintentionally, accommodate their remote counterparts (Valentine, 2004).

It is clear that a synchronous learning environment is itself its own modality with its own strategies and pedagogy. It certainly requires a strong infrastructure and system (Ardley, 2014), and a robust training program for the faculty teaching in this modality (Szeto, 2014). But the first and most important strategy that cannot be overlooked is to ensure that the students’ experiences are equitable by having the instructor teach from a studio-like room and having all students join from similarly equipped remote classrooms—whether located on campus or off campus."

Examining the Efficacy of E-Service-Learning

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Online Teaching & Learning Practices

E-service-learning is a pedagogical technique in which instruction and/or service occur online. Students in a distance learning section of Atypical Development course created a Google Site with resources for individuals with developmental disabilities. Additionally, students met with youths with developmental disabilities biweekly via Blackboard Collaborate Ultra sessions. At the end of the semester, students completed a questionnaire assessing their e-service-learning experience. Students reported that the e-service-learning experience was related to course content, increased their understanding of individuals with disabilities, increased student engagement, helped them relate the subject matter to everyday life, positively impacted their future academic and career choices, and overall had a positive experience. Students in a face-to-face section of Atypical Development who completed an in-person service-learning project did not significantly differ on any of the aforementioned measures. Course evaluations were also examined for both sections. Students in the e-service-learning section reported greater satisfaction than the in-person service-learning course. Specifically, e-service-learning students reported: the instructor attempted to make the course relevant to students; the assignments helped me learn the subject matter; I enjoyed the class greater than students in the in-person service-learning course. These results indicate that e-service-learning is an efficacious pedagogical practice in distance learning courses.

Online Professional Interview Clothing Fair

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Online Student Support & Concierge Practices

SUNY Canton has for decades held a Professional Clothing Fair on campus sponsored by the local chapter of the AAUW. Due to volunteer changes and limited physical space on campus, the prospect of having the traditional clothing fair was limited. This coincided with an increase in our campus conscious of looking for opportunities to bolster engagement with online students and the idea of holding an Online Professional Clothing Fair was born. The goal is to provide access to all our students through on online portal and we would provide free shipping to our online students as a return on their activities fee investment.

Best Practices for Assessing Online Learners

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Online Teaching & Learning Practices

Assessment of online learning looks at formative and summative feedback, understanding what a learning objective is and effectively create them, investigating assessment tools and assignments for online learning, and understanding why active learning and assessment tools are important for online learning. It also looks at rubrics and other examples for assessing written assignments, as well as how to use the LMS as a learning tool.

Only a small percentage of students participate in study abroad programs and many groups are underrepresented. There is little diversity in race, gender and ethnicity nor access for non-traditional, lower socioeconomic groups, those with disabilities and first generation college students (Fischer, 2012). Using synchronous online meeting tools to create globally networked learning experiences can enable all students to have a meaningful international experience, combat a student’s sense of isolation in fully online courses, and build community. However, simply calling for all your students to be online at the same time does not create a meaningful experience that will contribute to meeting course objectives. It is important to allow time for thoughtful planning about how you will design the sessions and collaborate with your partner. Here is an approach for planning your collaboration with your partner and setting up your synchronous session around role playing.