Why not make a trailer to introduce an online module?


It’s possibly the first time I’ve ever received an applause in class.

I am taking a professional faculty development course on humanizing the online learning experience for students and was inspired by our instructor’s @brocansky introductory video to her course.

I have an online module coming up for my group communication course and have often struggled in the past with motivating students to feel excited about approaching their experience with technology. But, it really doesn’t make sense to do the module face-to-face since the topic is technology and virtual groups.

So I decided to try something new.

I created a sort of trailer, just like an introduction to a movie that is soon to be released. I happen to like technology and I get a bit of a kick out of making videos so I decided to try out the built-in trailers in iMovie. I created the movie and decided to show it in my class since the module is occurring next week. I honestly didn’t know if my students would think it was fun, cheesy, silly, boring…..I had no idea. I was shocked by their response. I played the following 52 second trailer and in both sections of my course the class applauded! One student said, “that’s the best thing I’ve ever seen in a class.” Wow! Well, I guess it was worth the time!

I’m not quite sure if the online module will match the excitement of the trailer but I’m a little optimistic that it was worth the time putting in to creating it; I already sense an element of excitement among my class. The final requirement of the online module is a reflection on the students’ experience in this module. I decided to ask them what impact, if any, the trailer had on how they approach the module. More to come on what they had to say…

The trailer


Fixing the leak: my why


I teach to help fix or prevent leaks in the educational pipeline; to make sure students do not feel lost and disconnected; to make sure they know at least one person who cares about and believes in them as others did for me. I teach to find innovative ways to solve complex problems.  I teach to fill gaps in student knowledge to prepare them for success in this multicultural, ever-changing world.  I teach to leverage technology to facilitate a collaborative learning process so that knowledge can be created and not just consumed.  I teach to educate students and future educational leaders about the inadequacies of the educational system, and societal injustices and to empower them with the knowledge to affect change.

It’s tough when you’re helping to create knowledge and not just consume it.


Dear Student:

Yes, I’m making you use technology more than you’ve had to before and it is pushing you out of your comfort zone. Yes, I could have you just submit your papers in hard copy or email them to me and not use all “of these digital tools.” And, that group project I’m making you do using the internet might even be much “easier” without using technology at all. No, I don’t have to make you read and comment on the thoughts of your peers.

Yes, you have to go somewhere else to access our course website (other than BlackBoard) – it enables me to leverage technology to do so much more for the learning experience. Yes, it is MUCH more work for me to make your learning experience “different.” Yes, it might even feel like you’re doing more work than you should for a ___ level class or __ major; it’s tough when you’re helping to create knowledge and not just consume it.

You might be frustrated and might even want to “keep notes on all of this stuff for my evaluation at the end of this semester.” I won’t lose my job because I challenged you; I work at an institution that values innovation and sees the relevance of these skills.  I DO want you to share your thoughts in your evaluation because I value your thoughts and I do try to make adjustments to meet your needs; I value you. And, because I value you, I want to prepare you for the future, a future that will utilize technology that does not yet exist to do things that we can not yet imagine.

Your kids (or future kids, or nieces and nephews) will be using this tough technology “stuff” too; indeed the following is a common core standard that is part of K-12 schoolingCCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.6: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.”

Even if you’re not going to be a teacher in the classroom one Teach_kids_household_financeday, you may have kids, so you’ll need to be able to help and show them. You’ll also have to compete for jobs against others who have these skills.

Get uncomfortable.

Embrace change.

Color outside the lines.

Be frustrated, but try to understand the “why.”

Ask for help when you need it.

Prepare for the future.

Hack? Make? Connected? Open? Walls? What the HECK is that? Now I see the light.


This summer I had the opportunity to attend the DML Workshop at UC Irvine which had the primary goal of creating a course about connected open courses.  If you’re lost because you’ve not really heard of this idea before, here’s a secret (which I eventually outed at the workshop)… I was too!  I sat there for the first half of the day feeling a bit puzzled – words and phrases were thrown around like “make” and “femnet”… of course “open” and “connected” were too.


I was thinking… what the heck is a make, why are we “hacking” a syllabus and why is Jim Groom bald in the video from his ds106 course?  

I work at an institution (CSU Channel Islands) that is committed to supporting innovation and I was identified by an awesome colleague Jill Leafstedt as someone who might like this stuff and would be a good fit for attending.  Prior to attending the workshop all that I really knew was that I’d be surrounded by amazing people who are leaders in this area.  

Throughout the first day I managed to figure out what was going on –  ohh……. an OPEN course is like a website that contains all of the course content and allows you to CONNECT with others.  Some of you reading this probably already get that but I wasn’t really dialed in (as you can tell).  As I started making sense of the WHAT, I started questioning the WHY…

  • Why would you go to all the effort of connecting your courses? What are the benefits of having students at one University connect with another?
  • Why do this in the first place — how do we KNOW that students value this experience? What evidence exists that shows students benefit from an open connected course versus a traditional face-to-face or online course?
  • Why would we want “drop in” students?
  • Why is open better than BlackBoard?

Since I couldn’t really answer these questions myself that first day of the workshop (and did not really want these experts and amazing people to know I didn’t know what they were talking about), I went back to the hotel thinking “well… I guess that’s a “cool thing” for others to do.”  I also had a quick conversation that night with my colleague Jaime from CI who shared some ideas of how she might be able to use the idea of open courses with her nursing students.

ThLight bulb en it happened.  I started seeing the light…. the ideas came…. oohhh… if my classes were open I could connect my students with other students internationally so they can develop international perspectives from people ACTUALLY living in other countries.  Then I thought… hmmm… I could connect my students with students in the K-12 system where they (many are future teachers) can practice using digital tools to teach children and mentor children about college along the way.  I also realized the power this could have for keeping leaders in higher education trained beyond the completion of their degrees; for instance, they can pop into my assessment class to “brush” up on their skills.  So many possibilities!!

I came back to the second day of the workshop with a whole different perspective.  I began seeing possibilities.  Plus, we started the day learning about #phonarnation which was amazing and was presented by Jonathon Worth in an engaging narrative.  I absorbed the brilliance of those around me; these folks are not only are cutting edge when it comes to use of technology for learning but they’re so very creative.  I was so impressed by the strategies they use to get their students to learn — they think out of the box.  In fact, I’m fairly certain none of them had blue skies on their pictures when they were kids.  They helped me to see some ideas of how digital tools can actually help students better learn material… for instance, why not have students find an image that represents a concept instead of put pen to paper and describe it.  Describing a concept is a lower order cognitive skill but being able to understand it to the point that students can find an image that captures the essences of the concept uses critical thinking. Love it!  

While my creative juices were stirring, I was also thinking about the more technical “HOWs” and logistics of doing something like this:

  • How do you grade the work of these “drop in” students?  Philosophically, I believe that a key part of teaching is providing feedback.
  • How do you assess if “drop in” learners achieved what they wanted them to?
  • How do I do that cool thing that aggregates blogs?
  • I can use WordPress for something other than blogging?
  • How do you keep learners engaged online?
  • What about confidentiality?
  • How do I post copyrighted documents?
  • If I want to do this, do I have to connect a whole course or could I just do a module?
  • Do I have to be as cool as Jim Groom and make a video series, shave my head and have a radio station?  No… I’ll never be THAT cool.

This group of folks were so great that they welcomed my questions (once I finally was brave enough to share my naivety) because they felt it could inform the course we were making together… the one I’m also participating in.  I did manage to get some of my questions answered but I also anticipate building on this knowledge throughout the @ccourse.

So what impact did this have on my teaching?  I guess you could say I got brainwashed through this experience.  My campus joined into the “domain of one’s own” initiative and secured domains for our use (called “CI Keys”) – so I joined in the fun, too.  Well… I didn’t just join – I kind of jumped both feet in. Myself and my friend Jaime are sort of the pioneers at our campus.  I’ve now moved ALL five of my classes to an open format (http://jaimiehoffman.com) and have created one connection with a friend in Japan to have our students learn about diversity together and another with a friend who teaches leadership at a local high school to have my students teach her students about leadership.  

It’s funny… before going to the workshop and building my courses in an open format, I was trying to convince campus representatives at CI to secure Canvas instead of Blackboard.  In all honesty, now I don’t really care what LMS we have because I much prefer having a course website.  The only thing I can’t do so easily in BlackBoard is to provide video feedback. Thus far, I’ve found having my classes in open format to be SOOO great for many reasons:

  • Connections….! (discussed above)
  • Drop in learners who can add to the learning experience of my registered students
  • I get to create the visual appearance and design of my course in a way that fits with my curriculum.  To steal my friend Jaime’s metaphor (heck people join us together as one now anyway since we’re both drinking the connected courses koolaid)… using Blackboard is like ordering off of a limited menu whereas an open course on WordPress is like an endless buffett.
  • I get to help students build their digital literacy and identity which will be integral for their future success.
  • I can enhance my student’s international and multicultural perspectives through allowing them to collaborate with others outside of CI.
  • I can aggregate student reflections/blogs onto one page making it easier for them to learn from each other’s perspectives.
  • Class announcements are so much easier!  Just post a new blog.
  • If you want to do something there’s liking a plugin or a widget for it!
  • Embedding Storify pages on my class home pages to aggregate student’s current event searches.
  • I have my course websites saved to my iPad and iPhone home screens – so convenient.
  • And last but not least — I have the power to access my course materials without logging into a dreaded LMS.  Accessing a digital version of my syllabus is one click away.  It’s so easy to access my course materials that I hardly print anything for my classes.  Woo… sustainability! 


I didn’t realize the walls that were associated with using an LMS and now that

I see the potential of an open website, it feels quite liberating… I’m free!!


Having said all of this… I’m learning along with everyone else in the #ccourse and I’m also getting to learn as I’m running my open courses this semester as well.  Also… as a person who believes in evidence-based decisions and formative assessment, I’ve given my students a little pre course assessment to see where they stand with their perceptions of technology so I can support them along the way.  I’m very interested to see if their perceptions change over the course of the semester.

I’m so thankful to work at a place that supports innovation and with people who have empowered me to move forward with this craziness by supporting me in various ways; Jill, Jim B, Jamie, Chris, Mikhail, Michael M and Michael B!  

Let the learning begin! #ccourses