Thoughts, writing & snippets

Marguerite Koole, PhD

Online University Teaching During

mkoole, · Categories: Educational technology, Teaching

Rapanta, C., Botturi, L., Goodyear, P. et al. Online University Teaching During and After the Covid-19 Crisis: Refocusing Teacher Presence and Learning Activity. Postdigit Sci Educ (2020).

The Covid-19 pandemic has raised significant challenges for the higher education community worldwide. A particular challenge has been the urgent and unexpected request for previously face-to-face university courses to be taught online. Online teaching and learning imply a certain pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), mainly related to designing and organising for better learning experiences and creating distinctive learning environments, with the help of digital technologies. With this article, we provide some expert insights into this online-learning-related PCK, with the goal of helping non-expert university teachers (i.e. those who have little experience with online learning) to navigate in these challenging times. Our findings point at the design of learning activities with certain characteristics, the combination of three types of presence (social, cognitive and facilitatory) and the need for adapting assessment to the new learning requirements. We end with a reflection on how responding to a crisis (as best we can) may precipitate enhanced teaching and learning practices in the postdigital era.

So, we just published this article alongside some amazing scholars around the world. The process of writing the article was very interesting. We all shared our ideas on the key questions:

The five questions were as follows:

  1. In what aspects do you think online learning design and delivery is different than face-to-face teaching and learning?
  2. What do you think makes online teaching and learning successful?
  3. What would you say to non-expert colleagues who follow a materials-based approach to online teaching, e.g. sharing materials with students or asking them to produce materials?
  4. What would you say to colleagues who follow a tools-based approach to online teaching, i.e. the idea that tools such as videoconferencing or text-based discussion boards are the key features of online learning?
  5. What are some effective ways of monitoring students’ engagement and learning during online courses? How can they inform assessment?

What are your thoughts on teaching during the pandemic? Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments field.

Connected Papers

mkoole, · Categories: E-Research, Educational technology

I stumbled upon this interesting tool just this morning. Connected Papers allows researchers to see how a paper is related to other papers that have been published. It’s not a means of seeing who has cited the paper, but to see works with similar references.

To test it out, I submitted a title of a book chapter that I published back in 2009: A model for framing mobile learning.

The interface looks like this:

Papers similar and connected to the chapter, A model for framing mobile learning
See in detail: Go to site

Again, the papers that appear do not necessarily cite each other, but they discuss similar information and cite similar references.

I thought I’d try another paper, and the results raise some questions: The web of identity: A model of digital identity formation in networked learning environments. In this case, my paper appears to be unconnected to other clusters around it–even though they all seem to be about related topics such as identity, community of practice, educational technology, etc.:

Papers related to and connected to a chapter "A model of digital identity formation in networked learning environments.
More detail: Go to site

As per the Connected Papers website, this tool may be useful if scoping out newer fields of study such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), or virtual reality (VR) in education.

Related: Project Alexandria

Another site that documents similarities between authors and creates maps is Project Alexandria. It also offers a “sentiment analysis” tool (see the “about” information on the site. To test this, I used:

Title: Mobile Learning
Author: Mohamed Ally
Description: This collection is for anyone interested in the use of mobile technology for various distance learning applications. Readers will discover how to design learning materials for delivery on mobile technology…

Writing a thesis? You need to know about the levels of theory . . .

mkoole, · Categories: E-Research, Educational technology, PhD Studies, Research

Designed by Freepik from

[Image designed by Freepik from]

I was just working with a student today, and it seemed appropriate to discuss the levels of theory. (Ghads! I posted this yesterday, and noted some serious revisions were needed!)

There are different levels of theory:

  1. Philosophical perspective (i.e., ontology, epistemology, teleology, etc.).
  2. Theoretical perspective (anti-positivist vs. positivist).
  3. Background theory (of your field such as distance education).
  4. Focal theory (for example, maybe you are using the community of inquiry to guide your study).
  5. Data theory (the methods you choose, how you collect your data, and how you analyze your data).

They are all connected.

You will need to understand where you are in terms of your philosophical approach to the world:

For example, if I identify myself to be within the subjectivist camp: 

I will likely position myself with the anti-positivist theoretical perspective. I might choose:

Say, I select “interpretivism,” I am likely to draw upon some of the following [note that these will help you form your research questions (RQs)]:

The background theory of, for example, distance education would involve

I will choose focal theories that agree with anti-positivist philosophy.

Data theory: the methodology and methods you choose in order to answer your research question need to be “commensurate” (i.e., in agreement) with the above theories/philosophies. So, as an interpretivist studying distance education and using the community of inquiry as my focal theory, I would consider:

Make sense?

A blast from the past . . .

mkoole, · Categories: Educational technology

This is fun. I stumbled upon this very old website that I developed alongside some classmates during our master’s degree: The Computer-Mediated Communications (CMC) Resources Site (circa 2002).


The CMC Resources Site

In it, we listed some activities for using asynchronous discussion forums:

The list lacks some elaboration, but the activities mentioned can serve as startings point for identity accelerator activities.

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

Word Cloud from Recent Literature on Makerspaces

mkoole, · Categories: Educational technology

Makerspace Word Cloud

Identity Accelerator #12: The Balloon Exercise

mkoole, · Categories: Educational technology, Identity, Teaching


This activity was originally conceptualized as a face-to-face, whiteboard activity: The Magic Balloon.

The basic idea is that there are two groups of students in the class. One must protect the balloon; the other will try to pop the balloon.



Preparation and instructor responsibilities

  1. The instructor draws a balloon on the whiteboard screen.
  2. The instructor divides the participants into two groups
    • Group 1 – protect the balloon
    • Group 2 – pop the balloon
  3. Group 2 goes first and must draw something on screen that they can use to pop the balloon (for example, a pin).
  4. Group 1 responds by drawing something to prevent the pin from popping the balloon.
  5. The groups take turns.
  6. After 5 minutes or so, end the activity. (Set a time limit at the beginning.)
  7. Debrief: review the methods of each group. If possible connect the exercise to notions of creativity, problem solving, thinking outside the box, or something related to the class.



I tried this at the beginning of an instructional design class. The students enjoyed the activity; it was a fun way to start the class. I was able to connect it to the notion of creativity and problem solving in the context of instructional design. For other course topics, connecting the activity might be challenging.


3.5/5 stars

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

Identity Accelerator #9, #10, and #11: Ways to Engage in the First Five Minutes

mkoole, · Categories: Educational technology, Identity, Teaching


These three ideas arrived in my email in-box this morning: Three Focusing Activities to Engage Students in the First Five Minutes of Class (Faculty Focus: Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magna Publications).

As learners arrive for your synchronous discussion, they often need to check their technology by running audio and video wizards. Time can flit away. For those who are ready, you can offer some activities that will help to focus and set the tone for the session. You might even offer some content review activities.

The article by Faculty Focus is focused on the flipped classroom. But, the three activities can apply equally to online classrooms.

  1. The looping Slide Deck – Trivia questions, pictures, quick facts.
  2. Ordering exercise – List of steps or items to be put into order.
  3. Draw something together – Suggest drawings related to the lesson/course.




Preparation and instructor responsibilities

  1. The Looping Slide Deck
    • In Blackboard Collaborate, Adobe Connect, and similar synchronous tools, it might be challenging to get the pictures to loop automatically. However, you could place one picture on each page of the whiteboard along with instructions for the learners to manually advance through the pictures.
    • A question or comment could accompany each picture.
    • Tell the learners that they can start anywhere so as to avoid creating stress for those who join later.
    • Ask the learners to place their answers and/or thoughts into the text space OR draw and write on the whiteboard pages.
    • Debrief
  2. Ordering Exercise
    • Can be placed on a single whiteboard page.
    • Ask the participants to text their suggestions for the “best” order and why.
    • Allow the learners to use the chat tool or write on the whiteboard page.
    • Debrief: Explore the learners preferences for the ordering of the items in the list.
  1. Draw Something Together
    • Type what you want the students to draw. (Choose something
    • Tell them they must draw a single thing rather than multiple small drawings.
    • Debrief: Ask what they intended to draw; ask what emerged.



These are easy activities to set up. If the prompts are chosen carefully, the initial five minutes can be made more useful and meaningful rather than the usual set-up chaos we sometimes experience.


4/5 stars

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

Identity Accelerator #8: Easter Egg Hunt

mkoole, · Categories: Educational technology, Identity, Teaching


When a new semester begins, the students know the drill . . . “Update your biography. Post your introductory message in the Welcome Forum. Read your classmates’ introductory messages. Make a pleasant comment on each introductory message.” There is nothing wrong with that process except that it is the same for every class. So, here is a little twist on it.

Image of an egg in an egg cup

Ask your students to put and “Easter egg” in their biography. An Easter egg, in digital terms, is a hidden treasure. They can choose anything. They could embed an image, a video, a lie, something true-but-unbelievable, something wonderful, etc. The students can be sneaky and post information in white font on a white background. They can add tiny links to videos or multimedia. The task is to read each others’ biographies and find the Easter egg is: what is that special thing that has been embedded in the message?





Instructor responsibilities



I have done variations on this exercise in which I have asked the students to complete their biographies in the learning management system. Then, I told them to post something contradictory in their welcome messages. It’s a great way to ask the students to more deeply examine each other’s identities.



4.5/5 stars

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

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!