How to Teach Online

How to teach online

I teach two courses in the School of Education at the University of Portland – a social studies methods class in the fall and an ed tech methods class in the spring. Content differs, but the approach is the same.

This spring, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and mid course I made the transition to online without missing a beat. Here’s two elements that made the “live-to-online” transition possible. They were core principles when the course was taught face-to-face and they were even more critical when we moved fully online.

  1. We utilized a student centered, project-based approach. Students are doers – actively engaged in design, implementation, presentation and reflection.
  2. The course was organized around a WordPress (WP) site that created a public forum where the students and I posted all our work. This changes the typical class dynamic from students doing work for the teacher to a class where students sharing their learning with the world.
Teaching Online: Course Website

Let’s take a look at the website – I’ll begin with social studies methods class. Here’s a quick look at layout – basic features and navigation from the public viewers’ point of view. With a few minor changes it will support online teaching this coming fall.

Teaching Historical Thinking Skills / PBL Online

In this video I share few lessons from Social Studies Methods class to show sequence and scaffolding to support the our project-based learning approach. I want my students to continually explore the frontier of what they know and don’t know about themselves as learners. So I start with some easy tasks and I become less helpful as they learn to increasingly figure things out themselves. You can go directly to both lessons here: Class 2: Curating Historical Content and Class 3: Historical Thinking Skills.

Harnessing Student Creativity Online

The four key components to any lesson are: content, process, product and evaluation. In the traditional classroom, the teacher defines the scope of each of these components. A student centered approach means they can make some choices. With the proper scaffolding, students can tap into their own creativity as they define the scope of some of the lesson components. This video show how I open the door to harnessing student creativity. It focuses on a lesson from my spring ed tech methods class: Class 7: Where I’m From: Telling Digital Stories.

Leveraging WordPress as a Learning Management System

Most Learning Management Systems (LMS) are closed silos of content. I want a public facing course that forces me to reveal my teaching to the world and inspires students to do the same. I never do any direct instruction on WP – but rely on a library of videos I’ve creative to teach students WP basics – and we add skills along the way.

This video will give you a look at the WP dashboard from my edtech methods class and some of the native features that a great for managing your course.

Note: I also want to put in a plug for Reclaim Hosting – where these courses are hosted. It’s a fantastic service designed by and for educators that offers teachers and students domains and web hosting that they own and control. They have very affordable plans and their support teams will answer your questions in language you can understand.

To close, I’ll share some comments from students that attest
to the success of our approach:
Student in Spring 2020 Edtech class

“Professor Pappas ran the course very smoothly and had no problems when we had to transition to online learning. I liked that we were able to use lots of creativity in this class, it was super fun to see what everyone came up with. The assignments were manageable and insightful. I thoroughly enjoyed the website that we used throughout the whole course. It was easy to navigate and I liked that everything was in one place!”

Student in Fall 2019 Social Studies Methods class

“At first I wasn’t sure whether or not I would like the project based atmosphere of this class, but it pushed me to synthesize the content that we were learning about. I learned a lot about how to deliver a lesson to a class as well as I got lots of inspiration and content to use in my own classroom as well, which has been well received by my students. Peter does a really good job of guiding his students to do their best. I didn’t realize how beneficial my portfolio of blog posts would be as well.”

Email from a former student who had just landed her first teaching job

“The school I will be teaching at prides themselves on their use of technology in the classroom and asked me about my background in technology. I sent them my author’s link to all the projects I did with your – and they were very impressed. Your class was probably one of my favorites at UP because it was so practical, collaborative, and student centered.”

PressED: A Global WordPress Conference on Twitter

PressED header

I’m excited to be selected as presenter at “PressED: A WordPress and Education, Pedagogy and Research Conference on Twitter.” PressED is a global Twitter conference (#pressedconf18) looking into how WordPress is used in teaching, pedagogy and research. The focus will be on how university-based educators and their students are innovating with WordPress. See PressEdConference18: Presenters Twitter List

Even if you’re not interested in that specific topic – you should check out this cool way to organize a conference on Twitter. It will take place on March 29th from 10am (BST / GMT+1) to 10pm (BST / GMT+1) onwards. My session PBL with Digital Storytelling Tools will start at 12:20PM (Pacific Time).

The conference is made up of sessions. Each session at the conference is based on 10-15 tweets in a fifteen minute period. Presenters can add videos, gifs, slides, links or whatever they like to their tweets.

Submissions for sessions are closed, but you can also take part by following the hashtag (#pressedconf18) for the day – or at any time after the conference has happened. When a session finishes, there’ll be a chance to ask questions.


Save Instructional Time with Screencasts

Here’s a “case study” in lesson design that demonstrates the efficiencies of offloading information transfer via screencasts.

Setting: I’m currently teaching Alaskan Studies at University of Alaska Southeast’s MAT program. My course is teamed with a Multicultural Ed class. We have a cohort of 37 students in the first three weeks of their on-campus summer session. Our face to face class time is critical and we want the students to get to know each other before being sent out across Alaska on their student teaching placements.

Goal: I wanted to open the course with a place-based activity that gave the students a creative way to share something about themselves. I decided to give them two PBL design options – creating a poetry-inspired Haiku Deck [ Lesson ] or a developing a geo tagged tour using Google MyMaps [ Lesson ]. During the same class, I wanted to get them introduced to WordPress and our course blog where they would be regularly posting.

All this was accomplished in a 3-hour class through use of short screencasts that explained each aspect of Haiku Deck, MyMaps and WordPress. Screencasts were made using Apple Quicktime Player and uploaded to a playlist on YouTube.

Bottom line: By investing about 45 mins to make screencasts (in advance), I freed up three hours of class time for student interaction and production.

You can view student products: Haiku Deck here and MyMaps here 

Here’s some student reactions to the workflow:

The “flipped” structure of this assignment was new to me, but eye-opening. Using YouTube and a course website to provide instruction without eating too much class time opens a number of possibilities for a teacher. Having that time instead for working on an assignment seems helpful for students, and it would free the teacher up to walk the room and help them individually with any problems they might be having. ~ Tim

This activity gave me a sense of fulfillment because I got to go at my own pace and actively create a project within a clear and manageable timeframe….The quick cadence of this activity was driven by Peter’s use of Youtube tutorials to deliver instructions and information about the project. This element all but cut out lecture time along with the inevitable (inferably painstaking) process of verbally answering repeated questions from students. In my experience as a student, verbal lectures and directions often cause me to get bored and then shut down, or to get lost and then shut down. The video clips smoothed over this issue and I anticipate utilizing this method in my future classroom. ~ Devin

It was fun, it has kept the entire class occupied for over two hours and I can see how this is an amazing learning opportunity and activity for the classroom. Allowing students a few different options to choose a way to creatively address a subject, giving them a set amount of time to accomplish the task and then providing a space to view their peers work in order to get ideas for the next activity. Brilliant. ~ Erin

Image credit: Flickr / eGuidry

My TypePad to WordPress Conversion

typepad wordpress conversion

If you’re a follower of my blog you’ll notice its new look. Copy / Paste has moved to WordPress.

When I first started blogging back in ’05 I was a bit confused by WordPress, so I opted for TypePad. TypePad has been easy to use, but I’ve enviously watched WordPress evolve into a far superior platform. And I’ve always been a bit nervous wondering what might happen to my blog if TypePad – a paid blogging host – decided to pack up shop. Earlier this year, its parent company, Six Apart, was sold to a new owner. My anxiety level increased. The thought that some new owner of TypePad might one day shut it down was frightening. But so was the idea that in moving to WordPress, I might jeopardize my content and traffic.

Fortunately I found Foliovision – and here’s three reasons why I can highly recommend their work:

My web design skills peaked with FrontPage ’98.

1. I don’t think in html, yet manage to do lots of interesting things with technology with only a veneer of understanding of what’s going on under the hood. Foliovision spent a great deal of time explaining the conversion process before I signed on. (How many times did I make them absolutely promise that a conversion wouldn’t kill off all my links?) Since we started working on the project, they have patiently answered questions that a serious techie must find rather naive. Bottom line – while they wrote the book on TypePad to WordPress conversions – they can discuss it in layman’s terms.

2. They manage project workflow with style and efficiency. Through the conversion process I worked with four specialist via their Foliovision’s Basecamp collaboration tool. Replies were timely and each person seemed well aware of what the rest of the team was doing. Alec, Foliovision’s creative director, would periodically pop into the conversation with a great idea, like merging one of my other domains into my new blog. You never would have guessed I was working with a team based in Bratislava, Slovakia – half a world away from Portland, Ore.

3. It turned out to be an engaging collaborative effort. OK – so I didn’t have much to suggest to Martin about programming or Marieta about CSS. But I did have a bit of synergy with Michala, the lead designer and project manager. We shared loads of design ideas and exchanged screen shots as the look and function of the new blog took shape. We even found out we both admire the work of Barbara Kruger – you’ll recognize her influence in my blog.

So this is my first blog post on my new site. I’m eager to learn more about using WordPress and leveraging the custom Foliovision plugins. And, of course, I checked all my content, links, and data  - they made it over successfully. 

For more on Foliovision’s conversion click here.  BTW, I chose the Gold Service Option. 

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