Faculty Spotlight: Martha McKenna

Martha McKenna is a professor at Lesley University and the Director of the Creativity Commons. As part of her work to support creative exploration in teaching and learning across the university, McKenna is currently heading up a two-year grant-funded project called the Visual Literacy InFUSION Project. This cross-division collaboration aims to support faculty across the university in recognizing, promoting and evaluating non-traditional visual and media literacies in their classroom practice. As the project heads into its second year, we caught up with McKenna to see what role academic technology has played in the Visual Literacy project so far, and how it might intersect with the project’s goals going forward.

[eLIS]: The faculty involved in the Visual Literacies project are a diverse group from across the university, all with busy schedules and other priorities. How have Lesley’s academic technology resources helped to facilitate the project despite these challenges and lay the foundation for an authentic group collaboration?

[McKenna]: Academic technology played a critical role in connecting faculty across the university in the Visual Literacy InFUSION Project.  Through myLesley, we were able to create a learning community where communication was centralized, and where all resources were made available and easily accessible. We have also been able to capture all of our faculty’s activity in the community’s Blogs. The eLIS staff helped us think through how best to utilize myLesley, and helped us to adapt the tools to suit our unique purposes.

[eLIS]: What do you see as the biggest challenges that lay ahead as the Visual Literacies project moves into its second year and scales up to reach more instructors and classrooms across the University? 

[McKenna]: We are excited to move forward with the Visual Literacy InFUSION Project across the undergraduate schools. Since the Project encourages faculty to integrate text and image more creatively in their teaching and learning environments, faculty will naturally be expanding their use of digital resources in the classroom, and many could require exposure and training to support this evolution in their practice. We will also be counting on myLesley to help us reach and coordinate the efforts of greater numbers of faculty across the undergraduate schools.

[eLIS]: With the success of the project so far in a select sample of face-to-face classrooms, do you see potential for this work to impact distance education and online instructional practices at Lesley University? 

[McKenna]: The Visual Literacy InFUSION Project provides an opportunity for all faculty to think about how digital resources can expand the engagement of students in learning and expressing what they know through text and images using new media. This transformation away from text-centered instruction can only expand the way we look at online learning resources and delivery of instruction. And since our approach has students become active agents in their own learning through project-based assignments, it is perfectly suited to create new possibilities in Lesley’s online learning environments.


Learning Beyond the Classroom: Case Studies of Teaching and Learning with Social Media

This post is adapted from a poster presentation developed by eLIS staff and Lesley faculty for the New England Faculty Development Consortium (NEFDC) fall conference:

The use of social media in higher education teaching and learning is becoming increasingly common every year. Many faculty are enthusiastic about the prospect of using social media tools to extend classroom walls and create technology-enhanced learning activities that are relevant for their students’ lives. Against this backdrop, however, faculty need to be mindful of recent FERPA legislation, as well as consider the establishment of best practices for facilitating authentic, learner-centered social media experiences that are respectful of students’ privacy wishes.

Below are four case studies from Lesley University faculty members to offer further insight into best practices for teaching and learning with social media.

Communities of Practice


Real-World Inquiry


Professional Development


Instructor Communication



Although social media was used for different purposes in each of these cases, some common threads tie them together. The following are recommendations for teaching with social media based on the intersections in these cases.

  • Connect instructional use of social media to learning outcomes (Bosman& Zagenczyk 2011)
  • Provide very basic instructions for students to get started
  • Explain basic functionality and norms of the social media tool
  • Build specific activities into course design
  • Scaffold opportunities to interact with peers and others
  • Respect student privacy across student-led and instructor-led experiences
  • Educate students about privacy considerations and appropriate use
  • Articulate communication protocols and norms for each class
  • Plan for maintenance of communities in between class settings


Best Practices for Teaching with Social Media, Instructor-Led Assignments

  • Provide option to opt-out or alternate assignment
  • Provide option not to use real names or real locations
  • Link to basic tutorials
  • Let students know that they can delete accounts or “unfriend” in the end
  • Connect assignment to learning outcomes and assess learning according to rubric
  • Never provide individual feedback to students publicly

Best Practices for Student-led Social Media Use

  • Students should present themselves authentically and adhere to institution social media policy
  • Apply best practices of instructor-led assignments where applicable

Integrate the social media within the course site

  • Link the social media participation to the course in the LMS through dynamic RSS feed and/or links to the course hashtag

Next Steps

What did we gain from our inquiry? We were able to identify three key areas for further work.

Faculty Professional Development

  • Promote institutional community building with social media (upcoming: #ToleranceDay @lesley_u)
  • Provide workshop for faculty on analyzing social media platforms (January 2016)
  • Evaluate need to offer existing online seminar Using Twitter to Develop a PLN in Spring 2016

Enhancement of Institutional Policy

  • Extend existing Appropriate Use Policy with expanded Social Media Policy

Exchange of Curricular Materials Using Social Media

  • Create space for sharing sample assignments, rubrics and instructions amongst faculty teaching with social media

To learn more about initiatives related to teaching and learning with social media at Lesley, look us up on twitter @lesleyelis.


Bosman, L., & Zagenczyk, T. (2011). Revitalize your teaching: creative approaches to applying social media in the classroom. In B. White, I. King & P. Tsang (Eds.), (pp. 3-15) Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Couros, A. (2010). Developing personal learning networks for open and social learning. Emerging technologies in distance education, 109-128.

Englander, E. (2013). Bullying and cyberbullying: what every educator needs to know. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Herbert, M. (2006). Staying the course: a study in online student satisfaction and retention. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 9(4).

Journell, W., Ayers, C. A., & Beeson, M. W. (2014). Tweeting in the classroom: Twitter can be a smart instructional tool that links students with real-time information and connects them to authentic discussions beyond school walls. Phi Delta Kappan, 95(5), 53.

Sample, Mark. (2010, August 16) A framework for teaching with Twitter. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/a-framework-for-teaching-with-twitter/26223


Learning Online: It’s a Process

Nancy Beardallprofile image teaches dance therapy courses for the Expressive Therapies program. This September, she taught her Body/Movement Observation and Assessment course online for the first time. To prepare for this new experience, Nancy worked with an eLIS instructional designer over several months to reimagine what her face-to-face content would look like online.

During the design process and while teaching online, Nancy had several realizations. As a dance therapist there’s an intuitive sense that informs her teaching. When teaching online, there’s also an intuitive sense to using and smoothly integrating the technology, but she didn’t have that technology vocabulary to guide her. This created a feeling of discombobulation of how the two would fit together. To overcome her obstacles, Nancy continued working through her content with an instructional designer and attended eLIS’ Summer Technology Institute, The Institute allowed her to use an inquiry model to re-examine her content with other faculty while at the same time exploring technologies and how they might ‘fit’ her content.

One of Nancy successful blendings of content and technology was the students’ final presentations. Students recorded and analyzed their application of specific movement theories. Their videos were uploaded to a course media gallery using Kaltura Video in myLesley. Nancy then scheduled synchronous online meetings in Lync. Each student had ten minutes to present their work and five minutes for follow up. Students reviewed each other’s videos in advance of the online meetings and posted feedback to the students within a few days after the meeting. Nancy found that the wait time between the presentation and the responses was an unexpected benefit. Students could review presentations at their own speed as often as they needed and they had time to think and process what they had experienced. She found their responses to be much more thoughtful as they balanced their initial reactions against longer reflections when they wrote their comments. They were simply “terrific.”

Nancy’s second realization was that she probably talked too much in her face-to-face classes. She wasn’t able to do that online. As a result was that the students did more of the talking and presenting while she listened and guided. Nancy liked the result of hearing her students as they worked through the content so much that she is now trying to shift the balance in her on-campus classes and talk less allowing her experience teaching online to inform her face-to-face teaching practice.

If Nancy had one piece of advice for faculty new to teaching online, it would be to realize that “it takes a village” to learn. You won’t be doing this by yourself. Work with the eLIS designers, other faculty and even your students to learn the design, teaching and technology skills you will need. It will be an iterative process. There will be frustrations, but there will also be successes and unexpected benefits. The final result probably won’t be what you originally envisioned. With time, patience and a willingness to adapt, it can be much better!



Teaching Body Movement Online with Kaltura Video

Nancy Beardall teaches Body/Movement Observation and Assessment for the Expressive Therapies program. This September, she taught the course in a fully online format for the first time. Initially, Nancy couldn’t imagine how she could successfully support students learning body, effort, space, and shape at a distance. Enter Kaltura, a video recording and sharing software that is integrated directly into myLesley.

Nancy’s students were required to observe and practice the fundamentals of body movement, but they were only going to be on campus for a few weeks during their summer residency. Nancy’s solution was to record her on campus students performing the body fundamental exercises and then uploaded these videos to her online course using the Kaltura Media Gallery. The online students could then review the videos as often as they needed, comment on what they observed in their assignments and discussions, and then practice the movements on their own. If students had questions, Nancy could refer them to the videos and even reference specific moments or clips within the movies.

body fundamentals video screenshot

The Kaltura videos worked so well that Nancy’s on campus students wanted to use it as well. The videos provided them with an easy way to review and practice their observation skills outside of class. They also uploaded selected dance project videos to Kaltura to share with their classmates for feedback.

Nancy has nothing but good things to say about Kaltura. She refers to it now as a “lifesaver” for her online course. She and her students also found it much more accessible and less cumbersome than previous software tools they had used to share video. Considering that Nancy didn’t get access to Kaltura until three days before the start of her course, and needed to get both herself and her students comfortable with the tool, this is high praise for its ease of use.

So what are you waiting for? Contact eLIS and start using Kaltura Video in your online or face-to-face courses today.


The Online Learning Community as Digital Village Green: Interview with Joan Thormann Part IV.

This post is the fourth in an interview series with author and Lesley University Professor Joan Thormann regarding the design and facilitation of online learning environments.   Joan Thomann will be presenting at an upcoming eLIS Brown Bag event, The Online Learning Community as Digital Village Green.  This event will take place on Friday, November 15th from 12pm to 2pm at Lesley’s University Hall at 1815 Mass Ave in Cambridge on the third floor, within the Creativity Commons.

By Nancy Jones (Own work by uploader - application screenshot) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Are you able to develop a relationship with students?  Do you think this is important to their commitment to learning?

Joan Thormann: Building relationships with students is one of the more time consuming things that I do.  I schedule one-to-one Skype meetings with each student.  These meetings were originally supposed to be about 15 – 20 minutes.  As it turns out, the meetings usually last anywhere between 30 to 90 minutes.  I tell my students up-front that the purpose of these meetings is for us to get to know each other.

The Skype meetings allow students to get to know, trust, and feel comfortable with me. My hope is that video conferencing helps to build community because I attempt to communicate that the online environment will be a safe place to discuss content openly. I want students to know that I won’t allow anything bad to happen as they interact with classmates.  There are other subtexts.  It helps them to know that I am interested in their learning, how they learn, and what they are interested in learning.  I am conducting research on this type of video conferencing as part of my research about the effectiveness of incorporating UDL in online courses.

To continue the relationship building, we also have small group Skype meetings so students can get to know each other.   I try not to have more than four in a group.  The week that students participate in a group Skype meeting, they do not have to post on the weekly discussion forum.

I encourage students to email and Skype me whenever they have questions or want to discuss something.  I also email each student individually at least once a week in addition to group emails and being “present” on the weekly Discussion Board forum.

My relationship with most of my online students is generally stronger than in face-to-face courses because I am able to respond to each student individually.  There are no students who sit slouched in the back of the classroom.  My online course structure does not allow this.  Also Lesley’s commitment to small class size allows me the time to build relationships with students.

You highlight in your book the importance of listening in online courses.  Could you expand on this?

Thormann: It is a combination of listening in these one-to-one and group Skype meetings, and listening to who they are through the language they use online.  Some students write a tremendous amount and others are very succinct.  I listen to what is said in these discussions and read what each student posts very carefully.  Basically, through reading or viewing their posts, and conversations, I can quickly, as any good teacher can, get a sense of how they learn, who they are, and what their interests are.  Many times they keep coming back to the same topic which helps me understand what their concerns are.

This semester I am teaching a course about teaching online (ECOMP 6201 Online Teaching: Introduction to Design and Practice), and one of my interview questions for the one-to-one Skype meeting was “Why are you taking this course?”  Almost all of the students said, “to get my certification.”  One student shared with me that she was scared about teaching online, and now at the end of the course she wrote me that she feels she can teach online.   I have seen many teachers move from being resistant to online learning to a point where they are much more comfortable.  In my communications with students, they become aware that I am “listening” and open up and talk about the issues in greater depth.   Moreover, they learn to listen to each other in this online environment.

Online learning can provide the opportunity for all learners to become engaged.  In fact one of my students wrote about herself as being shy and not speaking out much in face-to-face classes.  She is the most verbose student in this online course!   While other students respond to each other in three to five sentences, she will write a half page.  Online learning gives everyone a chance to be heard because participation is no longer tied to a scheduled class time (and place).

By Brian Solis [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What do you think is the future of learning technologies?

Thormann:  I am particularly interested in the use of mobile devices for learning.  I don’t really know where this is going, but my sense is that mobile devices are now being increasingly used for online learning.  Mobile phones are being used more widely in developing countries and, of course, most people in the U.S. have a mobile phone.  More and more people here have smart phones and tablets.  Logistics still have to be worked out in terms of screen size and input capabilities. But one of the things I love in online learning is figuring out how the pedagogy works best for a particular environment.

We don’t know what technological features will develop but for the future of online learning, the same questions will remain.  How can students engage with the material in a non-face-to-face environment so they can grasp the material, play with it, and reflect on it?  These are the questions I love to explore.