Thoughts, writing & snippets

Marguerite Koole, PhD

Identity Accelerator #7: The Virtual Nod

mkoole, · Categories: Educational technology, Identity, Teaching


Having moved from Athabasca University (AU) to the University of Saskatchewan (UofS), I have had to switch learning management systems (LMSs). At AU, I used Moodle. Here at the UofS, I use Blackboard. There are a few Moodle plugins that I miss. The Moodle plugin that I miss the most is Marginalia ( Marginalia is an annotations tool that allows students and instructors to highlight segments of each others’ discussion forum messages and write notes. The annotations can be private or public.

In a face-to-face classroom and, to an extent, in synchronous online conferencing environments, we can indicate agreement, disagreement, attentiveness, boredom, acknowledgment, and a multitude of other messages through body language. We often look at each other when talking and nod in some fashion. In an asynchronous, online environment, we cannot easily know when others are reading our messages, whether others are engaged with our comments, whether or not they agree or disagree with our opinions. When we read others’ responses to our messages, we can begin to decipher their level of interest. But, if no one replies there is simply no ready indication of interest. (An instructor can review the log files to see who has read what, but normally log files are not usually available to students.)

Marginalia allows instructors and students to give each other a “virtual nod”. As an instructor, I used to use it heavily to highlight interesting, fun, and substantive comments from the students. Without it, I often use the reply feature—which can make the discussions grow in length. Before with Marginalia, I would end a discussion and provide a link to a summary page that Marginalia automatically produced. Without Marginalia, right now, I do the summaries manually.

Students can also use Marginalia. Their use of it would help them to communicate to their level of interest. During a discussion, they can curate interesting ideas and quotes from their classmates. And, after the discussion has ended, they can more easily review what their classmates have said. This serves not only an academic purpose, but also an identity-development purpose. Students can find evidence of whose comments they tend to annotate the most. And, if the annotations are public, students can also see who annotates their own contributions. This can add extra identity, status or bonding dimensions to the development of community.





Instructor responsibilities



Absolutely 5 full stars. I have asked our administrators to look into adding an annotations tool to our LMS. When teaching at AU, the students consistently commented on how much they appreciated the annotations summaries.



Note: for an introduction to identity accelerators for online teaching and learning visit this entry.

Identity Accelerator #6: Present Yourself Using a Digital Poster

mkoole, · Categories: Educational technology, Identity, Teaching


Full credit to one of my Master of Education students, Nazreen Beaulieu, for telling me about this one! I learn so much from my students.

The idea is to ask students to create a digital poster that incorporates 10 adjectives that they would use to describe themselves. The title of the poster is “I am . . .” The students are also encouraged to use a metaphor such as “life is a dance”, or “life is a rollercoaster”. The images, videos, sounds, and animations that the students choose correspond to the adjectives and should fit into the chosen theme.

By asking the students to express themselves in this way, they share conceptions of themselves. They can express their sense of humour, creativity, emotional states, and interests.

This activity can be used as an icebreaker to facilitate community development.



Primarily working via a learning management system, I find that it is easier to do this asynchronously. The students can take a few days to learn the software and compose their posters. The instructor and students can share links to their digital posters (or upload if sufficient bandwidth). Then, they can comment on each others’ posters in a text discussion. Nazreen’s class used VoiceThread ( to comment on each other’s posters. This allowed them to listen to each other rather than simply relying on text.


It is possible for the students to share their digital posters synchronously. Then, you can bring them together in a synchronous discussion area (Adobe Connect, Big Blue Button, Blackboard Collaborate, etc.) to discuss their impressions of each others’ posters.

Preparation & instructions


Instructor Responsibilities



According to Nazreen, there are some advantages and disadvantages to the use of digital posters (face-to-face environment):

I taught mostly synchronous high school classes and a big motivator was turning the whiteboard over to the students for the opening 10 minutes of class. Some doodled, some shared memes while other just chatted. Having access to the whiteboard gave them a sense of ownership though that I think was important not only to build community but also to keep them engaged.”

“Bandwidth always proved to be a nagging culprit and resistor to equality. For those with high-speed internet, audio and video led to the creation of some awesome vines embedded in their glogs while others had to make do with just pictures.”


I haven’t tried this yet, but I would love to!



Note: for an introduction to identity accelerators for online teaching and learning visit this entry.

 Thank you, Nazreen!