Whitney Kilgore

Humanizing Online Instruction has been a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the Canvas Open Network since 2013. The course was designed to connect people who were interested in exploring new tools and teaching methods in a space where they could practice and play with colleagues from around the world. The course wayfinders have included a number of fantastic educators and learning designers including Sam Brenton, Samantha Duque, Robin Bartoletti, Dave Hallmon, Matt Crosslin, Patrice Torcivia, and Maha Al-Freih. The course has run multiple times, has been cleared by ethics committees for three different IRBs and has produced 5 peer-reviewed journal publications (that we know of) and a dissertation with a second dissertation in the works. These publications would not have been possible without the generous contributions from the HumanMOOC community to participate in the research studies we have conducted.

How did the HumanMOOC come into being?
When the course was first announced and promoted it was only an idea. It was supposed to be supported by the company that I worked for at the time and the people who worked there with me. However, soon after the course was announced and promoted on social media and other websites the team that was set to support the development work was laid off. I was devastated.

I remember feeling that I couldn’t promise the world that we were going to offer this course and then not follow through. The idea of humanizing online learning experiences has always been very near and dear to my heart as both a learning designer and a student who has survived numerous online learning experiences that were both fantastic and sub-optimal. So, I pitched the idea to my professor at the University of North Texas (UNT) to allow me to develop the first iteration of the course as a class assignment. I was working on my Ph.D. at the time. This was the only way that I could allocate time to the development of the course. I simply did not have the time to dedicate to school and work without the support of my faculty. Thanks to the graciousness of my UNT professors I was able to turn my “free time” toward the development of this course. Since that first run of the course in 2013, I’ve been enthralled by the conversations that have unfolded and established connections with researchers and colleagues around the world who care deeply about the design of learning experiences.

The current course wayfinders:

Maha Al-Freih became an integral part of the HumanMOOC during its second iteration in the Fall of 2014 and has been a close friend and research colleague ever since. We co-authored our first paper together with Robin Bartoletti “The Design Intent and Iteration: The #HumanMOOC” and it is offered as the first chapter in the book in order to provide some historical context.  This paper was selected for presentation at the European MOOC Stakeholder’s Summit in Mons, Belgium in 2015. The Design Intent and Iteration: The #HumanMOOC was also chosen as one of the top 5 papers in the experiential category and featured on edX in a pre-conference MOOC.

Patrice Torcivia joined the HumanMOOC in the third teaching of the course. Patrice is an instructional designer at Cornell and has been instrumental in the development of the Cornell MOOCs on the edX platform. Matt Crosslin works at the UT Arlington Link Lab and had most recently worked on the DALMOOC with George Siemens and others when he and I discussed him joining our team for the third offering of the HumanMOOC. Matt collected his dissertation data during the running of the course and completed his Ph.D. as a result of it.

Patrice, Maha, and I were asked by Educause to run the course again in the Spring of 2017 as an ELI course.

Sharing Stories of Effective Practices, the Community becomes the Curriculum
As a community, we have agreed that the human element is necessary in online courses. The current issue facing online learning is how to incorporate presence through human interaction and learning technologies in order to deliver a more powerful sense of instructor, social, and cognitive presence. During the second run of the course, I asked participants of the HumanMOOC if they would like to share their own personal stories and produce the HumanMOOC Book. This book has been a joy to put together and it is my privilege to get to share this openly and make it free for everyone to read digitally (printed copies aren’t free as one would assume).

The HumanMOOC participants have critically evaluated the use of synchronous and asynchronous tools to enhance teaching, social, and cognitive presence in order to meet the needs of distance learners. Their stories demonstrate teaching presence (sometimes referred to as instructor presence) and showcase their stories of methods of monitoring and managing student progress via audio and video. Authors of the chapters also share their own HumanMOOC experiences and highlight what worked and didn’t for them.

Chapter One is the paper that Maha Al-Freih, Robin Bartoletti, and I shared at the European MOOC Stakeholder Summit and is reprinted here with permission from the eMOOCs organizer Inge deWaard. This chapter tells the story of the first redesign of the course, the alignment to the Penn State Pedagogical competencies for online teaching success and learning design behind the stackable badges.  In Chapter Two Where’s the Teacher? Defining the Role of Instructor Presence in Social Presence and Cognition in Online Education written by Cathy Barnes, Cathy shares her experience of joining the HumanMOOC while she was concurrently enrolled in an online degree program. She expands on how she found community in the HumanMOOC and presence that didn’t exist in her own university online learning experience. Chapter Three from Sandra Mitchell Holder is titled Let’s talk: Effectively Communicating with your Online Students. In this chapter Sandra shares effective methods for personalizing communications with students. Helen DeWaard writes in Chapter Four about the value of feedback in the development of instructor presence as it is a recursive loop of practice-feedback-performance- judgment, that influences teaching and learning in online spaces. In Chapter Five, DeWaard expands on these ideas and suggests that the creation, curation, and annotation of video into the discourse, climate, and content of online learning environments enhance the learning experience. Helen points to the application of critical digital pedagogies in order to locate, integrate, create, annotate, collaborate, and curate video resources in the development of more humanized online learning solutions.

Chapter Six written by Susan Spellman-Cann, Erin Luong, Christina Hendricks, and Verena Roberts focuses on social learning in online spaces. They focus on the importance of relationships, learning with and from peers and how learners should be producers rather than consumers of content. Chapter Six concludes with their personal experiences in connectivist learning experiences and they posit that social learning is about forging connections whether physical or digital in the formation of communities. In Chapter Seven, Chrissi Nerantzi describes how to design in social experiences when creating digital learning opportunities. She shares her experiences of developing flexible, adaptive and versatile multi-institutional open learning opportunities where educators are free to collaborate and innovate as a part of a community of practitioners.

In Chapter Eight, Wendy Taleo presents affordances of technology to humanize instruction. Specifically, she points out three specific tools that were utilized in the HumanMOOC and presents a practical guide for anyone considering their use in their own online courses. Chapter Nine in this collection is from Kendra Grant who shares that rapidly changing and ubiquitous technologies, including mobile devices, free online tools, social networks and instant connectivity, have fundamentally changed the ways people interact, socialize and learn. Kendra presents the transformational use of video in online learning and challenges the status quo suggesting that technology needs to challenge “the way we have always done it” and afford new teaching methods. Chapter Eleven is from a colleague in Russia named Lioubov who shares her stories of humanizing online business courses and shares her initial findings from this experience. And, Chapter Twelve is a story from Maha Bali entitled Bringing Out the Human in Synchronous and Asynchronous Media for Learning where she shares her personal stories across a variety of her learning experiences.

As the HumanMOOC continues, I hope that others will continue to contribute to this collection of effective practices, practical guides, and personal experiences.

I was asked recently if the facilitators on the HumanMOOC team are paid for their time and the answer is no. The work that has been done by the team has all been for free. We are a mix of grad students and recent PhDs, however, we all share a passion for teaching and learning, and leveraging educational technologies. Our goal in running this course has been to share what we know with others, conduct research, publish, and serve the educational community. We all have jobs that “pay the bills.” We did receive a small stipend to run the course when it was offered by EDUCAUSE.

Special Thanks
Thank you for the generous support from our colleagues who have joined us in Google Hangouts on Air ~ now called YouTube Live including; Patrick Lowenthal, Michelle Pacansky-Brock, Phil Ice, Chuck Severance, Rena Palloff, George Siemens, Cathy Barnes, Kate Bowles, Autumm Caines, Alec Couros, Maha Bali, Peggy Semingson, Adam Croom, Roberta (Robin) Sullivan, Cherie van Putten, Harriet Watkins, Alexandra Pickett, Peter Shea and Christopher Price.

Thanks to the Instructure team who have supported the course on the Canvas Open Network and continue to support our ongoing efforts by allowing us to use the platform at no cost.

This book would never have come to be without the authors or the time dedicated to peer reviewing and editing the chapters.
Maha Al-Freih
Aras Bozkurt
Wendy Taleo
Verena Roberts
Helen DeWaard
Cindy Wallace
Sandra Mitchell Holder
Cathy Barnes
Lioubov Krasheninnikova

The book cover was created by Whitney Hack Williams. She was also responsible for almost every graphic in the HumanMOOC courses to date. Thank you, Whitney!

And, now… enjoy Humanizing Online Instruction “The Book”.


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Humanizing Online Teaching and Learning Copyright © 2016 by Whitney Kilgore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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