Every year I think, "this will be the year I finish my novel." I've been saying this since I started my novel over 10 years ago. In fact, I think it's been so long that someone else has probably written my novel already. Perhaps it's time to start anew. But I find I need inspiration and a goal.

Last year, I took a non-fiction writing class and found myself writing constantly. For one, I had to for the class, but I was also inspired to write. After the class ended, writing regularly fizzled out. Why? The desire hadn't died, but the goal of what to write & how much had faded. Of course, like every year, August was supposed to be my month of writing, but that month was hijacked by cancer, so it had to be another month. It happens to be November. Why November?

I had forgotten this, but last year, I signed up with a writing organization and on October 23rd, I received this odd email from "nanowrimo.org." "Who the heck is that?" I thought as I clicked on the e-mail. It was a reminder that November is national novel writing month! So, I'm participating in the challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of  November. I am also challenging my students to do the same. For me, it's a novel. For my students, it can be whatever they like. I'm also offering extra credit for anyone who completes the challenge. Check it out! You might just get inspired, too: http://www.nanowrimo.org/.

Copying @KarlBimshas, I am also posting a Word Cloud of my first 2,137 pages all written on November 1st. Create your own word cloud using wordle.net.

Now go write!

OK, so I realize it's been awhile since I've posted a blog. The truth is...I think this blog title is cursed. Let me explain...

In choosing my blog title, I focused on what my students call me. They call me "Professor B." However, that name was taken. Interestingly enough, Professor B has not blogged since 2003 after she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I didn't take it as a sign; I simply chose "MS. Professor B" for my title. Well, perhaps I should have taken the title as a sign.

Ironically enough, on June 4th, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My prognosis is positive. Surgery went well, and although it had metastasized, it hadn't gone beyond one lymph node. After recovering from surgery, I took a short break from treatment for my wedding and my honeymoon (yippee!!). Upon my return in August, I began chemotherapy. Warned that it would be rough, I convinced my supervisor to allow me to remain off campus Mondays & Fridays. Since three of the five classes I teach are online, being on campus is not a concern. Being available, however, is. Therefore, I had to devise a way to remain accessible to all of my students from off campus.

Granted, I check email in and out of the LMS about 5 times a day and read discussions at least once a day. I also make chat available for my students, and they have used it from time-to-time; however, for my on-campus students, this wasn't enough. That's when I started using Elluminate Live.

First of all, I created a link in Blackboard. My office hours are posted in the Syllabus, and during those hours, I click on the link & Elluminate loads. I also make individual appointments. Students follow the same process to visit me live online. (For a video demonstration, visit their website.)

When the "Office Hours" link is clicked, Java uploads and a new window opens. Once open, I can write on the whiteboard, share files, demonstrate websites, display videos, chat with students, and share audio. I can even record the sessions for students to play back later. If students have a webcam and a microphone, they can share videos & speak live as well.

The window looks like this (notice the interactive tools):

The most effective session I have had yet was actually with my on-campus class. I was having a particularly rough week fighting an infection. It was important to stay away from crowds for fear of contracting more germs and getting sicker. I was also miserable, but I didn't want to take another sick day. Instead, my class joined me online. They logged on to my online office hours, and although they did not have webcams or microphones, they followed along with my short lecture, asked questions via chat, and voted "yes" or "no" to my questions. I also asked some quiz questions and they typed in their responses. I hooked up my webcam, too, so they could see me.

Student comments were positive. Comments included, "This is cool, but we miss you!" That warmed my heart. Elluminate may not be a permanent solution for conducting a live class, but it's a powerful tool for days I just can't make it to campus. I can also see many other uses including telecourses, recording lectures during class, conducting reviews or Q & A sessions, and many more.

* Of course, I use Elluminate in conjunction with Blackboard 9; however, an online version outside of an LMS is available. Check it out!
My students insist on using the Citation Tool in Word 2007; however, they assume that if they simply enter the material, it will be correct. However, the citation tool works just like spell-check: it doesn't fix everything and you still have to know what you're doing. The following video should help demonstrate to students how to correct the mistakes of the Citation Tool while still allowing them to use the tool. Hopefully, they'll get the message. Let me know what you think!

My first Prezi Presentation. Presented at WyDEC 2010 in Sheridan, Wyoming at Sheridan College. A great conference!

Linked to a Google Site: https://sites.google.com/site/wydec2010/
I believe that students at the college level should be able to identify a properly formatted Works Cited page just by looking. Now, I'm not saying that they should be able to know if the source is from a journal, newspaper, or a database, etc.; rather, students should know what a proper Works Cited page looks like. Is it double spaced? Does it have hanging indentation? Do the entries end in periods? Those types of concerns.

So, it's the last 2 weeks of class; I've been going through the proper set-up for a Works Cited page all semester, and now it's time for the assessment. Of course, there's the final essay; however, these won't be graded until after the class ends and the feedback won't be useful for most students. If I can assess them on the final exam, then they can get the feedback before their final essay is due and use the feedback to at least create a visually correct Works Cited page.

In the past, I had students create a Works Cited page from scratch using select resources. This backfired when I spent too much time grading every minute detail. This year, I've devised a different type of test--one that incorporates multiple choice and some basic knowledge. Check it out.

Even though the page might be blurred, a person the least bit familiar with MLA formatting should be able to identify the correct Works Cited page. "Identify" is the key word...not knit-pick or analyze, but simply identify in 30 seconds or less. Can you?

Following the multiple choice question, students can then explain their thinking and it takes the test to the next level.

The Logistics

It was simple enough to create these images of Works Cited pages. I simply did a screen capture of three student Works Cited pages and inserted them in the test document. I made sure to choose essays from former students, deleted their names in the header, and I chose two pages that represent the most common mistakes made on Works Cited pages. Of course, one of them is correct, but I'm afraid I can't tell you. My students might be watching! If you really want to know what a proper Works Cited page looks like, you can see a sample essay here.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has done something like this. Have you? Care to share? What were your results?

Happy finals, everyone!
As many of you know, I am working on my EdD in Instructional Technology. Typically, these courses are online, a perfect learning environment since I'm an online instructor. What better way to learn about online instruction than to be a student learning about online instruction?! It's fascinating seeing how other instructors organize and design their courses. What I have found is that many online instructors fail to understand a student's perspective when designing an effective online course.

After having approximately 15 online graduate credits under my belt, I thought I'd let you in on some secrets about online learning from a student's perspective

1) Always provide clear expectations. This message may seem obvious, but it isn't. In the classroom, when you explain an assignment, you can see the confused looks on students' faces and then try to explain it a different way; however, online you can't and you have to rely on your understanding of "clear expectations." Therefore, it's important to assume nothing.
  • Provide an assignment sheet that is very clear.
  • A very detailed assignment sheet will yield clear expectations. (You might be amazed how many instructors don't provide an assignment sheet such as this one.)

  • Placing the assignment sheet in a folder titled "Assignments" from the main menu also helps.

  • An FAQ section with questions such as "Where can I find the assignments?" or "What are your expectations for the assignments?" also help. Assignments need to be found quickly and left available for multiple views throughout the semester. If they're buried in weekly or unit files, students will get lost.

2) Always provide prompt feedback. I have to admit that sometimes my feedback is slow. Just like my students, I'm busy, but I usually have large written projects back within 10 days. I think this is reasonable, but a study conducted by Patricia Webb Boyd in 2008 demonstrates that students expect immediate feedback while instructors had a different view (often 24-72 hours or more, depending on the assignment). This makes sense when considering most students are used to instantaneous communication; however, as we all know, grading takes time. Students don't always consider the amount of time it takes to grade an assignment. They want to know their score right away, and they're nervous about it. Therefore, refer back to rule #1 and let students know how long it usually takes you to provide feedback. In fact, it's a good idea to include it in your FAQ.

  • Of course, sometimes life happens, and we don't get grading done when expected. If this happens, inform students early and let them know when they can expect feedback and perhaps why it's taking so long. They're likely to understand and they can plan ahead, which leads to point #3.
3) Allow students to see the reading and assignment schedule several weeks in advance. As an instructor, sometimes I barely stay ahead of my students, especially with a new course. However, as a student, I plan at least one month in advance. If I can, I'll plan the entire semester's homework around my teaching schedule. Like I said before, I'm busy, and it's nice to know when a large project is due so I can plan for large chunks of time to complete it. When an assignment isn't available until just before it's due, planning ahead is impossible. Many students have jobs, children, ailing family members, and other personal issues that demand their time. If they can plan ahead, then they can avoid some conflicts. We may think students procrastinate because they're goofing off, but many are simply trying to balance life, work, and education. The least we can do is have some compassion and that compassion comes in the form of a well-planned course in advance. (Try Google Calendar for online planning.)

I use the LMS Calendar to show major assignment due dates. This is in addition to a weekly "To Do List" accessed in each week's link.

I have at least the Calendar complete before the course goes live even if I don't have every week or unit complete. Having the Calendar finished also helps me plan my teaching schedule.

4) Follow through and do what you say. Above I stated that if you struggle with getting the grading done early, let students know when you expect to have things graded. After that, keep that date. Make it sacred and do what you have to do to live up to your promise. I have spent many all-nighters grading in order to meet those deadlines. Knowing that you're living up to your word, makes those sleepless nights worth it. Remember that after submitting an assignment, students are anxious about your opinion and they question every stroke of the keyboard until they know what you think about their work. They may also need that feedback before moving on, and if they know you follow through, they can plan ahead to the next project with reduced anxiety.
These are the top four lessons I have learned so far, and as an instructor, I know these are high expectations. However, following these rules will not only make you a better instructor, but it will also help your students be better students.

Have you heard about Digress.it? It used to be Comment Press, but changed its name in April 2009. It's been sitting in my Bookmarks for about that long, and today, I took some time to play with it. My first attempt at incorporating this in my online Literature course begins today. It's a little late...but I tend not to be an early adopter (for example, I am not in line to buy the ipad; I'll wait for a 3G network in my area). However, I'm finally giving digress.it a test run, and I think I'll kick myself for not trying it sooner...it could have saved some past frustration.

The Assignment

I assigned "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway. If you know anything about Hemingway, you know that his stories are rather cryptic and not necessarily ideal for a first-year literature course. However, I taught the story in the past in a traditional classroom and thought I'd give it a try online. I am a glutton for punishment and tend to avoid the easy route when at all possible. Of course, I have several articles and notes about the story and I could have produced a presentation; however, with every attempt, I kept wishing for a document camera where I could point to the line or paragraph I was discussing. Having 1 document camera on campus, it makes it difficult to use. Dusting off my old bookmarks, I turned to digress.it.

The Logistics

Students first read the short story from their textbook or online (see the above link for the complete story). I copied the story to my digress.it account and then posted some comments and questions for some of the key paragraphs.

In Blackboard, I asked students a question that links to the discussion on digress.it and then encouraged them to comment. (This is the exact journal assignment: "Within the blog link on Hemingway's story, post a follow-up comment or question and then thoroughly answer one of the questions posed. Provide at least 100 words.") The students' answers are submitted in the journal component of Blackboard, so they will not be live unless they have questions or responses about the text.

This just came live today, so my students have yet to comment; however, feel free to take a look and let me know what you think.

Although not new, Digress.it has some promise. I'm just not sure how it fits in with current copyright laws. Certainly, we can't post every text here. However, with the new ipad and other book readers, certainly technology like this will become common place. What do you think? Do you use digress.it?
I have been teaching online for a number of years now and have toyed with video grading in the past. I hadn't adopted it because it took so much time. I would read the essay or outline, type up comments, and then record the video. Inevitably, I made some mistakes, so I would end up spending time editing in Camtasia. After a few videos, I gave up and would only record comments for those essays that needed serious help. Now, however, I video grade nearly exclusively. The following are the reasons why:

  1. Students love it. I get so many comments from students explaining how they loved the video. They understand my comments and it helps them see what's wrong with the essay and not just read my comments. They are also more likely to view the comments if their in video feedback, and now they're emailing me back to say thank you. I used to never get comments from students after grading (except to complain if they got a low grade); it was shocking when I received my first "thank you for the video" comment. It's positive reinforcement!

  2. Jing makes it faster. Jing, free video capture from Techsmith, makes it faster and easier to record and share video. Jing records up to 5 minutes. This forces me to limit my comments to the most important. I open the document through GradeMark® (iParadigm), read through the essay, post a few comments, and then start the video. If there are major problems with the formatting, I'll download the document and as part of the video, I'll demonstrate how to fix the formatting. I could also make a separate recording if I need to, but I try to stick to the 5-minute mark. The recording bar in Jing turns red when there's one minute left, so it's easy to tell if I need to wrap it up.

  3. Perfection is overrated. I still make some mistakes when recording, but I decided that it was okay to make some mistakes...as long as they're not too bad. If they're bad, then I'll simply start over. Otherwise, I don't stress over it. One student commented that he liked some of the "ums" and pauses in my videos. "It shows you get frustrated with technology, too, and that makes me feel better," he said. It's okay to let our students see our human side.

  4. Videos create community. Online students often comment that they feel distant from their online instructors. This is understandable when they don't see each other face to face; however, creating an online community is important for student success and retention. Video helps create a connection between the student and instructor by providing a sense of personality through the voice. Video can also demonstrate how you grade, so students understand the process more clearly.

  5. It's effective. The old adage of fiction, "Show, don't tell," applies in teaching, too. Students learn better if they are shown how to correct something rather than being told to correct it. If I can demonstrate via video how to correct sentence fragments, citations, or simple document formatting, they are more likely to adopt those corrections in their next essay. Now, I don't have any research evidence on this yet, but I will be conducting an informal study this semester and I will post the results here. However, anecdotally, I am convinced their essays have improved.

Now that you're convinced how video grading helps, I suspect you're asking how to do it. First of all, you need the following:

  • Grading tool. I use GradeMark®; however, you can also use the "track changes" method in Word or other word processing programs.

  • Microphone. You'll need to hook up a microphone on your computer. I like to use headphones as well because it helps filter out background noise.

  • Video screencapture. Jing is one of the best tools out there for educators. It's cheap (free for basic service), easy to use, and fast. Of course, if you have Camtasia or Captivate, then these will work, too. One reason I prefer Jing is because the recording time is limited to 5 minutes. I tend to ramble, so Jing forces me to be brief and focus on the main points.

  • Video sharing method. Personally, I use Screencast. Some storage comes with Jing, but you can also purchase your own subscription. There are other video sharing websites out there, like photobucket, shutterfly, dropshots, youtube, and so on...but Screencast won't require the viewer to sign up and it creates a simple URL for viewing. Jing automatically creates a Screencast link as well, so sharing becomes a breeze. I have attempted to upload a video file, but it hasn't worked well for me and it turned into a hassle, so I recommend a video sharing site.

With these resources, you should be ready to begin video grading. Simply read through the essay once and then start the video when you're ready to comment. Once the video is complete, upload it to Screencast.com, email the student the link, and you're ready to go on to the next! It's that easy.

It might take a little bit of time at first, but with practice, you'll find that it's much faster than typing or handwriting, and you'll find your students thanking you for the feedback.

Good luck and let me know how it goes for you!

My first article went live today. Here is a piece of it. Follow the link for the entire article.

eLearning Tools for English Composition
30 New Media Tools and Web Sites for Writing Teachers
By Keri Bjorklund March 30, 2010

I have been using technology to teach since I was a graduate student in 2001. I helped pilot the first hybrid English composition course while earning my MA, and I have been hooked on technology ever since. My goal is to have every English composition course in my district using technology.

I teach hybrid, blended, and online courses, and my students range from beginning college students to non-traditional adult learners.

One of the hurdles to getting faculty and students to use technology in education is introducing them to the right tools for their needs. A number of technologies are indispensible for any online course, but some apply specifically to teaching composition. While I may not use all of these tools every semester, these are the ones I think every online English instructor should explore.

Presenting Online
In an online learning environment, it is more important than ever to provide multimedia presentations. Students cannot simply read lecture notes. It's up to the instructors to provide the necessary resources and information that support student success.

The following tools will help create engaging and interesting presentations, whether used to teach the rules of citation, grammar, or any other writing topic.

Resources listed include those for Presenting Online, Engaging Students Online, Peer Review, Providing Feedback, Online Writing Resources, and Sites for Writing Inspiration

Read the rest of the article here.