eLearning Technology Blog

Becoming a Virtual Mentor at the WSU Global Campus

by WSU Online 31. July 2014 09:24

Throughout the academic year I receive inquiries from people interested in becoming a Virtual Mentor (VM), some of whom are recommended by instructors and faculty, but others are familiar with the program based on having had a VM in one or more of their courses. Existing VMs also identify students who appear to have the skills to become a VM.  Becoming a VM has turned out to be quite a competitive process for two reasons.  First, there are usually more applicants than positions available and, secondly, there is only one training workshop offered each year—usually in the summer.  Therefore, those who apply the earliest or have been on the waiting list for a considerable period of time (months), have the best shot at being accepted into the Workshop.

Training to become a VM is an intense process. During the workshop, which is offered to potential VMs for free and runs for approximately 5 weeks, participants are faced with several tasks and obstacles to overcome as a group. The workshop begins with introductions and quickly moves into the first unit which covers the importance of community building in an online environment and successful methods to emulate.

The next unit focuses specifically on the role of the VM in a course. There are often misconceptions about the role from both the instructor and students regarding what a VM can and cannot do. In order to be a successful VM it is important to know the boundaries and the best way to offer assistance when asked.

The next activity focuses on scenarios, and we feel this is the most integral part of the workshop. It gives potential VMs a chance to resolve real issues that can come up in a course, offer solutions and receive feedback in a safe environment from experienced VMs who also participate each year.

Our final activity involves a reflection piece and is one of the few things a potential VM will do on their own. They will take a look back through the workshop discussion forum and review the posts they have made along with the feedback received from the workshop coordinators and the experienced VMs. This exercise requires them to reflect on their experiences in this workshop and to be open to receiving feedback from peers.

Some of the participants who successfully complete the workshop will be offered a VM position.  They will shadow an experienced VM during the fall semester and then take on their own courses in the spring.  Those who are not offered a position right away are often able to join the program at some date due to attrition.

A Note about Blackboard:
In order to be prepared for the new platform VMs will be given access in order to look around and become comfortable with the navigation and tools available. Several VMs have had experience in Blackboard before and will share their knowledge with the group as well. Our goal is to be well versed in the navigation and tools of the platform by the time students have access in spring of 2015.

Margy Fotopolous

Promoting Critical Thinking

by WSU Online 21. July 2014 10:43

Many universities and faculty will tell their students that promoting critical thinking is built into their course and is a significant learning outcome for their students. In fact, at Washington State University, Critical and Creative Thinking is the number one goal of the Baccalaureate.  However, many instructors who sit down to teach or design an online course are unfamiliar with how to best promote critical thinking in the online classroom. Indeed, doing so may be an exercise in critical and creative thinking for the instructor themselves.  Fortunately, the Global Campus is constantly doing research and pulling together the best tips for WSU faculty. Here are some to get you thinking about promoting critical thinking in your online course…

You can start promoting critical thinking in your online course by designing learning experiences that stimulate and assess higher order thinking skills. What you assess defines success for students and directly influences how they will focus their effort and attention. Establish critical thinking as the hub of engagement among learners and course concepts.

“To educate students for autonomous intellectual performance as adults, we must teach them to build stories and interpretations, not just passively take in official ones. They need to see how knowledge is built from the inside… In short, students must have firsthand knowledge of the history of knowledge creation and refinement if they later are to create and refine knowledge.” [i]

The Boyer Commission Report: Reinventing Undergraduate Education, recommends strategies that require the student to:

1. Frame a significant question or set of questions

2. Research or creatively explore to find answers

3. Communicate and convey the results.[ii]

How to do it:

  • Develop evaluation criteria (a rubric) that provides clear descriptions of the thinking skills that you value.  This provides a reference point for you and students to monitor progress throughout the course.   Students can consult the criteria to reflect on the quality of their work and to become better judges of quality in others’ work.
  • Provide students with samples of work that exhibit both strong and weak critical thinking skills
  • Design online assignments that provide a scaffold for students to practice higher order thinking and explicitly encourage ongoing use of rubric criteria for self and peer-assessment.
  • Use student’s engagement and their ability to apply the rubric criteria in self and peer-assessments as a window to view development of their critical thinking skills.  Online threaded discussions, blogs and wikis are especially useful for this purpose.
  • Use the rubric to give feedback. The feedback provided to one person in a threaded discussion is visible to all and, thus, benefits everyone in the course.
  • What you grade will focus students’ time and effort.  Use the quality of student thinking and their ability to apply the criteria in self and peer- assessment as the basis of grading.
  •  Assess learner’s abilities at the beginning of the course and monitor their progress as the course proceeds. Use assessment findings to modify instruction and course curriculum.

For more information on promoting critical thinking in your course space or to learn more about research on the topic, please visit our Promoting Critical Thinking page here.

Theron Desrosier

[i] McTighe, Jay; Wiggins, Grant, 2004, Understanding by Design Professional Development Workbook: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD)

[ii] Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University. Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America’s Research Universities. http://notes.cc.sunysb.edu/Pres/ boyer.nsf/


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