Four Tips for Effective Teaching Online or On The Ground

The March 2017 issue of The Teaching Professor contains a wonderful article, “Four Ways to Teach More Effectively.”  And though it doesn’t address online teaching and learning specifically, all four of the methods highlighted here are essential (I believe) to quality online education.

Teaching Professor Logo

First and foremost:  pay close attention to the design of your course and think bigger than “content.”  What do you want students to know and be able to do at the end of the course?  Everything you do in every class should support this.

And of course, design requires an understanding of the delivery medium you will use:  on the ground?  hybrid?  flipped?  online?  Each of these demands different design considerations.

Second: think about the future.  What do you want students to know and be able to do five years after having taken the course?  This is especially effective in General Education courses–the kinds of courses that many students take only because they are requirements.

What’s the “so what?” of your course?

I first encountered this question as a serious guideline for effective education about a year and a half ago, and it has changed–in ways big and subtle–all of my classes and how I teach.

Third: pose problems that cannot be answered.  How can we help students practice handling the sorts of problems that will fill their lives, personal and professional?  The kinds of problems that cannot be solved?

Fourth: expect students to talk and write and collaborate.  Even when students tackle the challenging, seemingly unsolvable problems mentioned above, how can they move forward?   And how can we structure activities to help them develop these skills as they work toward what we want them to know and be able to do at the end of the course, and beyond?

I recommend you check out The Teaching Professor for this and other useful articles.

NaNoWriMo Helps Folks Tackle Tough Challenges of Any Type

The National Novel Writing Month (November) challenge is something I have participated in, off and on, for many years.

NaNoWriMo logo

You commit to drafting–from start to finish–a novel draft of at least 50,000 words between November 1 and November 30.  My three published mystery novels all began as NaNoWriMo drafts.  I use this model as the basis for a successful novel writing class for undergraduates.

Whether or not you are interested in ever writing a novel, the NaNoWriMo model for fighting procrastination and just getting your work done is useful to anyone tackling a big, time-consuming, and possibly overwhelming challenge.

“Surviving NaNoWriMo: The Tough Mudder of Writing Challenges” offers some great advice on writing and on the mental attitude needed to persevere .


Using Rhetorical Analysis to Help You Design Digital Learning Part Two


This is the second of two posts to help you use all the pieces and parts of rhetorical analysis as you design digital learning experiences for your students.


circa 1873, no known copyright restrictions, from Internet Archive Book Images

In the first post we looked at what rhetorical analysis is and how to use a basic approach to analyze someone else’s work.

In this post we will explore how you can use an analysis of someone else’s work to guide your own creation.


Let’s get started!

How does using rhetorical analysis of someone else’s work help us create?

Looking at several examples of different types of work and writing down (even informally) your observations can help you think in new and smart ways about how to create your own works.  Creators across centuries have used this model of studying other practitioners to jump-start their own learning.

Learn from others–what choices do they make that seem to work?  That flop?  Positive and negative examples will help you understand how to make choices in your own communications!

While you can learn from a rhetorical analysis of any type of communication, for maximum improvement to your own writing and creation, you’ll want to study some examples (good and bad!) of the sort of thing you intend to create.  An essay?  A video explaining a concept?  A compelling narrative of an historic event?  A website showcasing an exciting discovery?

Can you identify “masters” at the sort of thing you wish to create?  Who are the best, most successful practitioners out there?  Who does one thing that you want to apply in your own creations?  Study them!

How can we use rhetorical analysis on our own work for improvement?

After using rhetorical analyses of others’ works to help you understand your own rhetorical situation and to help guide your choices, you will have drafted your work.  Use rhetorical analysis at this point in your process to benefit your final product.

When you do this for your own work you discuss the

  1. Rhetorical situation in which you created.
  2. The choices you made.
  3. What your intended (hoped for) effects are.
  4. Your assessment of the plusses, potentials, and concerns you have about the communication.  What do you like about it?  What else could you do with a future draft or a next project?  What remains that you wish could be better?

Obviously, when analyzing your own or other’s work, you may want to add specific questions or points of analysis to fit a particular purpose or audience.  But these basics should get you started.

Sources for Practicing Rhetorical Analysis

You can practice rhetorical analysis on virtually any sort of communication.  Look for ones that interest you, and the provide good models for the sort of thing you want to create.

If you want to dive in and look at a few things right away, here are some recommendations.  These are not all of the same type or quality.  Some are produced by students, some by professional artists, some by professional video production studios.  Some use slides, some use video, some use web pages.  Some target young audiences, some are clearly for adults.

Electric Charges

Famine and Emigration

Finding Meaning in Your Work

Mr. Plimpton’s Revenge

My body–a Wunderkammer

Netflix and Chill

What is a Rhetorical Analysis?

I also recommend you visit and study galleries and samples at many amazing online digital storytelling sites including:



The Center for Digital Storytelling

The Educational uses of Digital Storytelling (University of Houston)

Want to try having your students use rhetorical analysis to create better projects?  You’ll find more resources –including sample lesson plans!– at the GLCA’s DLA101 project website.


Video on Google Sites and Google Drive Integration

A few weeks ago I shared a demonstration video by Dean Stokes which showcased in just a few minutes some of the basic features of the New Google Sites.

Today I want to share another video by Stokes.  Also concise (under six minutes) this video illustrates the amazing way that Sites integrates with Google Drive to allow you to include almost anything (Word docs, forms, entire folders!) into your website.

I hope this video will spark your imagination the same way it did mine.  What can I do with these new tools as I design learning experiences for my students?  How might they use Google sites to showcase and communicate about their learning?

Think About Coaching Students for Better Online Discussions

In this article for Faculty Focus, Lolita Paff shares how her experience learning to ski helped her rethink ways to coach her own students into better online discussions.

Improving Critical Thinking and Engagement In Online Discussions

A strong article with specific tools and processes for increasing engagement and critical thinking in online discussions.

I also found the tips applicable to traditional classroom discussions too.



Help Students Read, Think and Write Better with Argument Mapping

Argument mapping.

I love this idea, as I really believe this lies at the heart of the best of a liberal arts education.  By taking courses in many areas, students learn different ways to think, to learn, to approach and solve problems.

In this short video, Adam Elga and Simon Cullen argue that most of us ask students to write and think with inappropriate expectations and inadequate support.  It is, they say, like standing in front of a class and juggling three balls, then expecting them to learn and do it simply from watching us do it.

There’s some food for thought–I wonder how often I do that sort of thing?  Model for my students and then expect them to do something, without giving them ways to learn the skills and practice?

In argument mapping, they help students learn to “strip an argument presented in prose to its bare essentials and produce a visual map that displays its structure plainly.”


Students report that this helps them read, write, and think more clearly.

What a wonderful goal for all of us to pursue, no matter our content!

Also, this method illustrates the extremely powerful combination of visual and verbal methods of recording and communicating.   You can learn more about that by exploring the Combining Visual and Verbal category on this blog.

Many free resources exist for students to create these argument maps in a mind-map type format.  Check out this post for a quick list.

The Best Writing Software: Scrivener

If you write, if you teach writing, if you encourage any other people to write, you (and they) should have Scrivener.

Scrivener Logo

You can get it here for Macs, for Windows, and now for smartphones.  It costs about $40 and is worth every penny.  It will change your writing life.

From The New York Times:

“Our redeemer is Scrivener… software that jibes with the way writers think. As its name makes plain, Scrivener takes our side; it roots for the writer and not for the final product… The happy, broad-minded, process-friendly Scrivener software encourages note-taking and outlining and restructuring and promises all the exhilaration of a productive desk… Scrivener, then, is one of us, at home in the writer’s jumpy emotional and procedural universe.”—Virginia Hefferman