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D2L Tips and Tricks

The following are some of my favorite tips and tricks.

  • Encourage Undocking: Remind students that they can use the "Undock" icon to view documents in a new window free of the D2L navigation. This allows better use of the screen real-estate, and when they close the window - D2L still remains in the background window.
  • Multi-Edit Content Topics: If you need to update short titles or dates inside content titles, you can multi-select the topics for change and then use the "multi-edit" button. This saves time over opening and saving each individual document.
  • Edit in Raw HTML: For those who are tech-savvy, you can directly edit your HTML codes in the built-in HTML editor. This allows you to link to external CSS style-sheets, so that you can create ADA accessible documents which are also rich in color and design.
    TIP: The HTML editor allows you to resize the editing panel to any size you desire. Bigger can be better.
  • Discussion Deadlines: if you have weekly discussions, set the availability of the discussions in the FORUM level rather than each individual TOPIC.
  • Quizzes Mixed Up: Build all of your quiz questions directly in the question library. Then, when you make your quiz, you can use a Random Section folder which will give every student the questions in a different (random) order. Much less worry about "hey, what did you get for question 3?"
  • Quizzes as Homework Worksheets: Online quizzes are essentially insecure. Unless you have someone standing over the shoulder of your student making sure they don't use their cell phone, another computer, a walkie-talking, text note files on an iPod or MP3 player, or any various other ways of scheming the system, students who "cheat" have an unfair advantage over the rest of the class. Instead, consider the quiz tool as a way to ask really tough homework problems. Students solve the homework and then post their answers into the Quiz tool. They get automatic grading, feedback when they've guessed incorrectly, and the ability to "redo" by using the quiz's ATTEMPTS (suggest using LAST ATTEMPT or AVERAGE OF ALL ATTEMPTS). Multiple attempts are very helpful in giving students incentive to go back and study harder - to make sure they know the materials before going onto the next topic / chapter.
  • Launching Other Websites in New Windows: If you are linking to any external website, you should open the link in a new window. Many websites "reload" themselves into the outer-most browser frame - thereby "taking over" the browser and breaking the connection to D2L. When opened in a new browser window - you don't have to worry which sites misbehave. Use the LINK property to OPEN IN: NEW WINDOW.
  • Gradebook PASS/FAIL Item Type: Online students tend to procrastinate. Breaking up any assignment into a series of "completion exercises" (all or no credit) helps motivate students to keep on task. The PASS / FAIL grade item type allows you to easily award full or no credit. I suggest using the GRADE ALL item to set everyone to PASS, and then individually setting to NONE those students who did not complete the assignment (or FAIL to those who missed the deadline and didn't do the assignment sufficiently).
    5 pts P/F - Select a Topic (Week 2)
    5 pts P/F - Turn in 8 credible sources for the topic (Week 3)
    5 pts P/F - Turn in Preliminary Outline (Week 4)
    5 pts P/F - Turn in Draft of Point 1 (Week 5)
    10 pts P/F - Turn in Bibliography (Week 8)
    10 pts P/F - Turn in Draft of Full Paper (Week 10)
    60 pts - Turn in Final Version of Paper (Week 12)
    (notice that student will "fail" assignment unless they do all the completion exercises)
  • Grade Attendance as a NEGATIVE BONUS Item: If you take deductions for missing class, then the best way to handle that in the gradebook is to create a numeric type grade item which is set to type BONUS. Since Bonus items are not added to the denominator when calculating Final Course Percentage, any score (positive or minus) is not a "graded" item. D2L allows negative scores, even in the Bonus item. Use the Comments balloon in the grade to keep track of the specific dates and times missed, and then enter a negative number to reflect how much of a deduction so far (cumulative).

James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

Tips for Online Course Content Design

Here are some of my tips on Course Content design for online courses.

  • Falkofske's Growing Your Garden Analogy-Perennials, Annuals, Cut Flowers: Make your content very granular and keep mindful of the "lifespan" of each piece of information you are presenting. This will help you avoid excess editing each time you offer the course.
    • Perennials: Permanent Policies, Procedures, and Proofs - what information will stay the same unless there is an "Act of God?" Theories and concepts normally persist over time. For example, when is the last time the theory of gravity was updated? What about the last time a major campus policy was changed? Didn't it take great effort and years of development? Isolate your "relatively" permanent information into separate documents. To twist a phrase, then you can "ed-it and forget it."
    • Annuals: Applications, Assessments, Activities - what information needs to be updated on an annual cycle to improve the quality and accuracy? Schedules of due dates for learning activities, assessment descriptions and grading (including quiz and exam questions), and current applications and uses of theories and concepts should all be updated at least once a year. Separate these items to constrain the editing to specific documents which you know need regular updates (such as the "Course Schedule").
    • Cut Flowers: Current News and Controlled by Others - have you every built a hyperlink to another site only to find that when students tried it later in the course, the link no longer worked? Any content which you did not create (or control) should be separated out as a "cut flower." These are items that should be edited / written immediately before they are needed, so that they don't "wilt and die" before students need them. I suggest putting your "weekly links" into a News item. This will help avoid outdated links in your course content and also provide you with special incentives to create News postings with the "latest and greatest" links for the current week's assignments. It also gives you an opportunity to scan the industry news feeds to find articles which pertain to an aspect of your course (showing the topic is noteworthy and newsworthy).
    • Think "Transplantation" - is it easier to transplant a 45-foot tall Oak tree, or a rose bush? If you decide that you want to re-use content in a future semester (or different course), or if your textbook changes, or if the course learning objectives change, how easy will it be for you to prune and transplant the content? It is a lot easier to create lots of small objects (which are easy to sort and shuffle) than creating a few large documents. Example: rather than a 50-slide Powerpoint on the whole chapter, what about seven 10-slide PowerPoints with one for each major topic?
  • It is YOUR Course, Not the Publisher's: too often instructors base their entire course design on the Chapter Numbers in the textbook. This creates a myopic view. Things that aren't in the textbook seem like they "don't fit / don't belong" in the online course site. Instead, start with the course Learning Objectives and use them as the Titles for the sections / units in your course. Focusing on the learning objectives and their related assessments allows the textbook to become a "resource" and not the "course." There will be less renovation of the course if the textbook changes or if a different textbook is adopted.
  • Over-explain Everything! In a face-to-face class, it is easy to get audience feedback and determine if instructions are confusing or too sparse. In an online class, trying to "save time" by giving brief instructions results in a lot of time expended in answering questions and concerns, or worse, having students complete assignments in the wrong manner (because the instructions were open to interpretation). If you worry about providing too much detail and "boring" students, realize that students can easily skim through your content. This design tactic also serves as a CYA - if a student issues a challenge to a grade; if everything is explicitly placed in writing - it should be easy for any third party to determine what the expectations were for the student.
  • Make it Accessible! When explaining an assignment, always write instructions as though you were explaining them over a telephone. Rather than "click here, then click here," use language like "click the Content Link, then find and click Manage Content." Also, learn how to use the simple operations in Microsoft Office software to make your documents accessible. These are:
    • Create Well-Structured Documents: use the Styles > Headings to indicate the outline-based structure of your document (Heading 1 for title, Heading 2 for Major Sections, Heading 3 for Sub-Sections, etc.).
    • Use Text Alternatives for All Visual and Auditory Information: add ALT TEXT to your images (right-mouse-click, choose SIZE, then ALT TEXT) to provide blind users with image captions which are machine readable. If you have a particularly complex image or diagram, add a paragraph beneath the image which explains what principles the image is illustrating (this benefits sighted students as well). If you have a video or audio podcast, make sure that you post a text-transcript of the recording (often, textbook publishers have these available for the asking).
    • Add Column Headings to your tables: If someone cannot see your data table, they need to know the layout before they hear the data. Making sure that you have headings for each of your columns is an accessibility requirement. If your table has a particularly complex design, add a paragraph directly before the table which explains the layout and structure (again - as you would describing it over the telephone).
    • Save in Universally Accessible Format: I strongly recommend using the Adobe PDF file format for online files. This format preserves document layout (if instructors want a multi-column layout), preserves images, and allows documents to be viewed without the cost of special software (the Adobe Reader is a free plug-in). Adobe has added special features to the Reader so that it can work directly with assistive technologies (like screen readers, Braille devices, etc.).
  • Descriptive Title Links: Ever click a link and not know what is going to load? Frustrating? Did you ever get a "file" instead of a web page (and not know how to view the file)? Make sure that your hyperlinks have "human text" contextual labels (Creating Accessible Adobe Documents (.pdf) instead of http://www.adobe.com/enterprise/accessibility/pdfs/acro6_pg_ue.pdf ). If the link brings you to anything other than a web page, indicate the file type which will load (such as .pdf).

James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

Tips for Online Discussions

If you are running an online discussion, here are some tips to consider to have students interact more effectively.

  • Dual Deadlines: have the initial post due by mid-week and then follow-up posts by end of week. This ensures that students have something to react to as part of their follow-up activities.
  • Hyperlink the instructions. If you have instructions or a grading rubric, create a hyperlink which is easily accessible to all students. It is best is this document can open in a pop-up window. (For HTML gurus, this is the target="_blank" )
  • Problem Solving / Critical Thinking without the details: If students are asked factual questions, there is very little to discuss after one student answers correctly. If instead students are given "case study" questions in which they are given only part of the information, then students will need to analyze what questions they can answer, what additional information they will need, and what course of resolution they recommend.
  • HELP ME!!! It is very powerful to both students and instructor to create a Questions discussion in the course. This allows the instructor's answer to be "heard" by the whole course - rather than just one email recipient. Additionally - student peers will often jump in and answer the questions (allowing other students to get back on task more quickly). I normally have 3 discussion threads for Questions and Answers:
    • Questions about the Content: what students don't understand in the textbook, articles, handouts, videos, podcasts, and supplementary resource materials.
    • Questions about the Assignments: what students seek for clarification.
    • Questions and Tips about Technology: how to navigate and use the course more effectively.
  • Students Answer Their Own Questions: I ask that students post very specific questions AND also give me what they feel the correct answer is. This allows me to congratulate them when they are on the right track, and similarly it helps me identify where they might have gotten off-track. It is also a huge time solver, because I can properly scope the answer to the specific need... rather than writing huge blocks of text to try to re-explain the content.
  • Private Discussions Instead of Email: I set up private 1-on-1 discussions between myself and each student. I have students use those areas instead of email, since I know immediately the student's name and the course when a question is posted. Also - this allows me to quickly see a history of interactions (no searching through old email).

James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

Hulu - brings you Dr. Horrible

Neil Patrick Harris was featured in an online musical called "Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog" - which is now available at Hulu.com.

If you didn't see this when it came out last summer... you ought to see it now.

Also check out the official Fan Site for Dr. Horrible's Sign-Along Blog.>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com