Notes & Comments on eLearning


Connecting With Students in the Virtual Classroom Using Informal Videos

Ellen Murphy - Monday, June 22, 2015

One of the best ways to connect with students in the virtual classroom is to use informal videos for periodic updates and check-ins. These videos are different from what I call instructional videos. I use instructional videos to cover doctrinal fundamentals, with follow-up assessments and activities to deepen and assess learning. For example, in my summer, asynchronous law school Professional Responsibility course, I have a pre-recorded video on Rule 1.6 confidentiality vs. the attorney-client privilege. While there are techniques for connecting with students in these instructional videos, because I create the videos well before the semester start and because they may be used for more than one semester, these videos often lack personalization.

To increase personalization and to better connect with an individual class, I use informal videos to start each unit. These are short, typically 4-5 minutes, and include a quick review of the previous week and a few comments about the upcoming material. I try to always reference one or more student’s work and to include anything else that lets the students know they are heard; I may also discuss a current event or recent issue. While my more-formal instructional videos display my screen images (power points and other visuals) covering the doctrinal material, these informal videos are just me, speaking directly to the students.

This is how it works in my current, asynchronous summer class. I email the week’s assignments before noon on Monday, with all work due by 5 pm Sunday**, giving me time to review on Sunday evening what the students understand and where they need more help. On Monday morning, as I prepare to send out the weekly assignments, I create my short video and send it with the materials. Here’s an example; I made this video using the free version of Screencast-O-Matic, my computer’s built-in web camera, and a $24 headset. You will note it is not scripted, not professionally staged or lighted, and not edited; the goal is conversational.

These quick, easy, informal videos allow me to personalize what is often erroneously assumed to be a canned course. As always, I’m happy to answer any questions:

**While some asynchronous courses give students complete control over pacing, our course does so on a week-by-week basis. In other words, students work independently on one unit each week and are required to complete all components of the unit within the week. All assignments are due on a specific day, at a specific time. This allows students to act as a cohort of sorts throughout the course, facilitating both formal and informal group work. It also allows students to feel more connected to one another and prevents any one student from getting too far behind – or too far ahead.

Connecting With Students in the Virtual Classroom Using Pre-Course Surveys

Ellen Murphy - Friday, June 05, 2015

One of the most frequent questions I get about teaching online - whether synchronously or asynchronously - is how to connect with students in the virtual environment. While there may be a difference in the tools that you need online, the ways to engage students are the same as the traditional, physical classroom: motivation, personalization, and solicitation of their ideas.

I start each semester with a short survey. Completing the survey is required as part of our introductory assignments (which also include registering for our class website or course management system, reviewing class policies, etc.) I then send each student an individual email acknowledging their responses and engaging them based on one or more answers.

Having used this technique for nearly 7 years, I find that most students are not only surprised to learn that their surveys are read, but pleased to make a personal connection. The email serves not only an icebreaker and early motivator, but the answers help me better understand and know my students individually and collectively.

There are a number of free survey programs available; Survey Monkey is one.  GoogleForms is another good option. Many schools have licenses for professors for other programs as well; at Wake Forest Law, I use Qualtrics. The questions from my most recent survey are below; this survey was used for 2nd and 3rd year law students beginning their required ethics course, called Professional Responsibility. These are just a sampling; you can adapt for your course, teaching style, and needs.

  • 1.  Name
  • 2.  I am a/an: (a) second year student; (b) third year student; (c) Masters of Law student.
  • 3.  The year immediately prior to law school, I was: (a) working (list where); (b) in school (list where and degree); (c) other (describe).
  • 4.  Why did you come to law school? Please answer truthfully.
  • 5.  Describe your ideal post-law school job.
  • 6.  Who do you believe regulates lawyers: (a) the relevant state government; (b) the federal government; (c) lawyers regulate themselves; (d) some combination of the above.
  • 7.  I believe the legal profession is: (a) a business; (b) a profession; (c) both a business and a profession.
  • 8.  Are you planning to take the MPRE on (insert semester MPRE date)? [This is a required standardized ethics test for all law students.]
  • 9.  What is the last non-legal thing you read - ie, for fun (book, article, blog, etc.)?
  • 10.  Please list any questions, comments, or concerns.

These surveys have worked so well that I have started incorporating them in all of my classes, virtual or not. Next week, I'll talk about connecting using short, informal videos at the start of each week or unit.

As always, I welcome your questions -

Teaching Professional Responsibility to Law Students Asynchronously Online - Follow Our Summer Journey

Ellen Murphy - Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Last week we started my my fully asynchronous Professional Responsibility summer school class at Wake Forest Law School.  It's our first such PR offering at Wake. Interestingly, over 65% of the students enrolled have taken a fully asynchronous course prior to law school.

While we will not have any real-time meetings with all class members present simultaneously, this does not mean we will not have robust collaborations and connections via TWEN, WebEx, Google Hangout and other eLearning resources. In addition to readings and original instructional videos, students will collaborate through weekly discussion forums, wikis, and a class blog. I plan to chronicle our summer class in this blog, posting each week on what we're planning to do and how we're planning to do it in the virtual space. Also, I will report on how the previous week's assignments and activities worked.

We begin the course with introductory exercises, an overview of the rules governing lawyers and the basics of the regulatory framework, and perhaps most importantly, thinking about why we study PR. One of the things I enjoy most is considering how to translate what I do in a physical classroom to the virtual space. In my traditional class, I show the 60 Minutes Alton Logan clip at the very start of our first in-person meeting, which fosters great Day 1 discussion. For our asynchronous session, student must view the clip and write a responsive blog post - you can follow the blog and see the assignment here.

You can find the syllabus here. I welcome your questions - 

Pushing & Pulling

Ellen Murphy - Thursday, November 07, 2013

Recently, I started development of a new course – Legal Malpractice. This course will be a true blended course, with online and face-to-face components, including pre-recorded screencasts, as well as in-class technology implementation. 

It’s exciting to begin a new course, and I find myself immediately considering possible ways to introduce new technologies and tools to enhance student learning. However, this eagerness is not without danger. 

Classroom (whether face-to-face, virtual, or blended) technologies are adopted either because of a push or pull. A push is the implementation of technology solely for the sake of adoption, without a specific learning objective or problem in mind. A pull is the implementation of a device or application to achieve a specific goal or to solve a known problem. Instructors, or students, pull the technology into the classroom to assist with Goal X, Objective Y, or Problem Z. 

The most successful implementation arises from a pull. The technology is not the driver; the need, most often enhanced achievement of learning outcomes, is the driver. 

What does this mean for instructors and developers? Focus on content. Despite excitement in thinking about possible technology implementation, remind yourself that content comes first. Of course, it is okay to consider possible tools. During the process of development and content exploration, it can be inspiring – and productive – to consider possible technologies. But don't let them drive the content; let the content drive them.

Welcome to iteravi

Ellen Murphy - Monday, November 04, 2013

iteravi pronunciation Let's face it - if you are reading this post, you don't need someone else to tell you that technology is changing education. You've seen the statistics. You may also know that when used properly, educational technology can not only increase efficiencies, but also enhance learning outcomes and opportunities. 

You know you need to adapt. However, you also know that selecting the most effective ed tech tools can be overwhelming and time-consuming. 

What you need is someone who understands where you are and how to help you. 

I started iteravi based on my experience as an online student, teacher, and administrator. Having worn each of these hats, I understand the needs and concerns of the range of stakeholders involved in making decisions about and utilizing technology in both the traditional and the virtual classroom. 

My job is to help you select the right tools and translate your current curriculum for this new venue. 

Welcome to iteravi

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