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Online Teaching and Learning: The 2012 Effective Practice Awards

Looking for new ideas for your online course? This annual awards program from The Sloan Consortium highlights innovative online teaching and learning strategies with demonstrated evidence of success. A seven-member panel reviews the practices that have been added to the system throughout the year – each practice goes through and initial submission and peer review process. The awards selection criteria include: innovation, replicability, potential impact, supporting documentation, and scope as related to Sloan-C's quality framework.

And the awards go to …

The 2012 list includes six projects, each with a detailed description, related links, and the author's contact information. Let's take a closer look at this year's winners.

  • A.R.G. – Creating Alternative Reality Games for the Classroom: An ARG is defined as "an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants' ideas or actions." Dr. Jeff D. Borden created an ARG template that you can use to develop learning games for your students. You can even adapt your use from "completely virtual to completely physical" learning environments.
  • Cell Phones in the Classroom: Collaborative or Calamitous? Submitted by community college instructor James May, this practice recommends a host of Web 2.0 applications that put mobile devices to use for learning – from turning phones into clickers in face-to-face classrooms to sending mass text messages to remind students about assignments and other class events. This practice addresses not only mobile learning, but also BYOD/BYOT, QR codes, and social media, with goals of improved communication and student engagement. Explore the list of resources and tools provided, many of which are free for you and your students to use.
  • Comprehensive Online Student Support Services: What happens when your institution expands by adding new online programs? If your experience is like that of the Lone Star College System and Lone Star College-Online, you need additional staff to support new online students. Their "initial goal was to offer comparable student support services to what face-to-face students receive," and they quickly found that the need exceeded their existing staff. Approximately 8,000 online students can now access services – such as meeting with an advisor via chat – seven days a week. Lone Star is also adding services to assist online faculty with an early alert system that tracks student progress and notifies instructors of inactivity. What types of support services are available to your online students?
  • The CUNY Academic Commons – Social Network as Hatchery: This "software project" from faculty members at the City University of New York (CUNY) uses blog and wiki platforms to create an "open-source academic social network." With over 3,000 members, the Academic Commons helps to connect full-time and adjunct faculty working at 23 physical locations in New York City's boroughs. Through this network members can collaborate on research interests, support each other in online groups, and share their academic work. CUNY's Academic Commons "runs on open-source software and people power." Consider how a similar network might help you connect with peers at your institution.
  • Integration of Technology Into Undergraduate Education via Cross-Disciplinary Pollination: The Michigan Education through Learning Objects (MELO) project seeks to help students and instructors make use of existing web-based resources in a range of academic disciplines. Students, faculty members, and staff representing eight different departments are collaborating to learn from each other and "facilitate the cross-pollination of ideas and technology." Successful MELO innovations include the use of VoiceThread for online group assignments in an organic chemistry course and the move from lecture format to an online wiki in an American history course. Review additional examples provided in this award winning practice and think about how you and your students might incorporate existing learning objects in your courses.
  • Cyber Peer-led Team Learning -Taking the Classroom Experience Online: What began as an effective teaching model in traditional classrooms of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) is now being extended to online learning environments by a consortium that includes three institutions. The peer-led team learning method "engages students as active participants, not passive recipients, in online activities that involve complex problem solving, working collaboratively, communicating effectively, and fostering self-directed learning." Can all of this be accomplished online? This practice outlines how this approach to learning is finding success through the use of tools such as Skype, document cameras, and webcams. You may already incorporate peer-led learning in your online courses. Review this practice for additional resources and details about the IUPUI workshops.

Idea Implementation

Each of the Sloan-C Effective Practices provide some of the initial information you'll need to implement these ideas in your courses and programs. What can you do to get started? After identifying a practice you would like to try, review it thoroughly and prepare to revise it to meet your needs. Each practice has already proven its worth at another institution, but may need modification for use in the context of your course and students. And be sure you seek advice and guidance, not only from the authors of these effective practices, but also from your personal learning network, as well as your school's academic department and faculty development office. You may discover resources and assistance are available to help you in the process.

What are your effective practices?

Submit your strategies to the Sloan-C collection. This is a great way to share your success and suggestions with other online instructors. Access the Effective Practices catalog online for more information about how to submit, as well as to review previous award winners.