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Distance Teaching with Service Learning and Civic Engagement BETA

A Toolkit from University of Maine at Augusta, and University of Southern Maine

Print Version of the Toolkit: uma.edu/faculty-cedoc

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Online Interactions

Online Interactions

Designing your course to encourage and foster interaction and cohesion is an important step in the process of creating virtual spaces that will encourage reflection and help students and other participants understand expectations and processes:

  • Start your course design process with interaction in mind.  This video will help you think ahead

  • Establish Netiquette guidelines early in your course, use and adapt tools like this creative commons Netiquette Guideline

  • Setting targeted outcomes and deadlines for check-ins between students and each other and students and mentors of facilitators

  • Pre-scheduling the “live-stream” sessions for community partners so learners can plan to be present and practice the technology on their devices

  • Asking open-ended, reflective questions to get students thinking and talking/texting one another

  • Scheduling space for the interaction to take place over a period of time for asynchronous conversations and processing

  • Creating a virtual space for students to gather informally (like a virtual water cooler)--this can be a discussion board, video-conferencing room, chat-room, or any other web space that fosters informal social engagement.  This video will review some of the basics of facilitating online discussions.

  • Assigning student leaders to steward and facilitate discussions with their classmates


Strategies to Foster Social Presence

Student Communication from the Field

There are a variety of tools that students can use to communicate their ongoing experiences in the field with their community partner. Communications can be open reflection with their peers or private reflection with just the instructor. Blackboard journals can be set to accept private submissions between learner and faculty. Blackboard Assignments offer a similar opportunity. Regardless of the medium, both of these are an integral part of an engaged educational experience. Open reflection helps share insights and questions with fellow students and private reflections allow a private dialogue between the student and instructor.

Private Reflection Tools

Journals: are a low-tech option to video-diaries; journals allow students to process their experiences and get personalized feedback in a private forum.

Assignments: may be used to collect student reflections in a more structured and formal way.

Public Reflection Tools

Blackboard interactive tools (journals, wikis and blogs and discussion boards): each offer slightly different social design, but each can support video, audio, graphic, and text input by students.

Social media (like) updates: Google Community, Twitter, Slack, plain old Discussion board can help students easily share brief updates.

Video blogs/ audio logs: VoiceThread is a multipurpose tool, but can support asynchronous, threaded video diaries, demonstrations, interviews, video tours, etc.


Collaboration Strategies

Team/ buddy system: students working individually or in pairs can work as ‘online buddies’ who stay in touch, act as peer reviewers, provide feedback, support each other in meeting deadlines, etc. They can then be empowered to select their own technology within the limits of your safe-web usage policies. For instance, students may choose to follow one another on Instagram, or they may prefer to text one another on Facebook Messenger--as long as this fits your policy. 

Collaborative projects online/ in the field: Students can team up either online or face-to-face to work on collaborative projects. Desktop and mobile conferencing tools like FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Adobe Connect, Google Hangout, Skype, and Zoom all provide a free or low-to-no cost solution for learners and partners to meet in real-time video-calls. Just remember that not all software are accessible to all learners. You may need to design accessible solutions depending on the make-up of your course.


Rubrics for Grading and Feedback

Digital Rubrics: Blackboard includes an interactive, customizable rubric tool that you can use to attach rubrics to assessments (including discussions) in the learning management system. You can pre-load these rubrics with competencies you wish to assess and text-feedback related to each section and proficiency-level of those competencies.

Text Rubrics: For a low-tech version of using rubrics, you can make a rubric in a text-handout using word-processing software and attach that document to the course site or assignment directly.


Intervention Strategies

Retention center: The retention center provides information about student activity that the instructor can use to provide customized and personalized feedback to students, an effective way to establish social presence.

Real-time meetings: You can also intervene with students and even partners by scheduling device or phone conferences with them directly. Because online classes don’t have set meeting times, you can set the stage for meetings by offering a date or time range for your availability, offering virtual office hours, or using scheduling tools like Google Calendar or Doodle Polls to find a mutual meeting time and calling/conferencing then. Sometimes a conversation is the best intervention.

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