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

This post is the second in an interview series with author and Lesley University Professor Joan Thormann regarding the design and facilitation of online learning environments.  You can read part one here. 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 Left rj (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Please share more information about student moderation, why you decided to do this, and how it works.

Joan Thormann: When I first attempted to use student moderators to lead the class discussion, I asked for volunteers.  There are always passionate go-getters in every class and those were the students who volunteered.  It seemed to work well, so I started requiring that each person in my class take a turn moderating.

One of the reasons I thought student moderation would work stemmed from when I first started teaching online.   As the instructor, I was reading wonderful and informative assignments that students produced. Nonetheless, I felt like something was wrong with that picture.  Shouldn’t they be the one’s learning from one another?  This is when I began to encourage students to facilitate class discussions.  Student moderating requires students to read all of the weekly assignments.  This increases their interactions and ability to learn from each other.

I find that students who moderate early in the course often become involved in a way that goes beyond required participation. They ‘get it’ and want to learn from their classmates.  Both being a student moderator and responding to student moderators also helps to build community within a course.  All students must be prepared and actively participate.  It provides students with a stake in the process – the students have agency and a shared responsibility with classmates.

This is a leap in mindset for some people.  But once they take the leap they find this type of interaction to be very valuable.

What are some strategies to ensure success of the student moderator process?

Thormann: It is very important that the instructor model how to facilitate a discussion.  For the first two or three assignments, I moderate the online discussion in order to provide a model of moderating.  Students do not have to do it my way, but they do need to reflect on and think about how to help their classmates dig deeper and delve into the weekly topic.  I also post a summary of the weekly discussion when I am the moderator for the first few weeks in order to demonstrate how to do this as part of the student moderator assignment.

Even though student moderators lead the discussion, it is essential that I, as the instructor, continue to be present during the online discussion.   I send feedback to each student on their assignments a portion of which I post to the weekly forum.  However, I post comments and questions towards the end of the week so that students can take an authentic leadership role.

Delaying my feedback is an approach that I learned from students.  They told me, “Well, if you put your voice in early on, it undermines me as the moderator.”  I post questions and comments but not until students have had a chance to work with their classmates. I also try and cheer the moderators on so that they feel supported in this new online role.

A detailed description of how student moderation works can be found in my book The Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Designing and Teaching Online Courses.  I’ve also written two articles that address issues relating to the use of student moderators in online courses.   The ‘how to’ article is Student moderators in online courses published by Online Cl@ssroom and the scholarly article based on research conducted with colleagues at Lesley and the Instituto Piaget in Portugal is Interaction, critical thinking, and social network analysis (SNA) in online courses published by The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning.

Does the process of using student moderators create additional work for the instructor?

Thormann:  No, student moderators help save me time because I’m not the only one involved in facilitating discussions. Additionally, one of the side benefits is that students gain different perspectives from peers and appreciate the peer feedback and interaction.

Stay tuned next week for Part III of this series.

eLearning Institute Proposal Call for Faculty Development Day 2014

By Heinrich Böll Stiftung from Berlin, Deutschland (Notizbuch) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Faculty and academic staff at Lesley University are invited to submit a proposal to present at the eLearning Institute on Faculty Development Day in January.

Please join us as we enjoy a day of exploring best practices in online learning, mobile computing, social networking and more!

The eLearning Institute will occur on Thursday, January 16, 2014 at University Hall and is the result of a collaboration between the Faculty Life & Development Committee, eLearning & Instructional Support, the Center for Teaching, Learning, & Scholarship, and the Office of the Provost.

Examples of presentation topics include:

  • Innovative uses of media in teaching and scholarship
  • Examples of innovative pedagoggy in the classroom
  • Teaching and learning with mobile devices
  • Fostering engagement, collaboration, and communication with/through technology
  • Multimedia/Video/Digital Storytelling
  • Exploration of trends in social media
  • Updates from Summer Technology Institute participantson classroom innovation
  • Research or best practices related to the use of digital media in face-to-face, hybrid, and online environments

Presentations may be group or individual. Presenters will select one of the following presentation types to share:

  • Traditional Concurrent Session: These are presentations or discussions of a topic or concept. (60 minutes)
  • Bring Your Own Laptop (BYOL): These are presentations that encourage hands-on exploration of specific websites or tools. Participants will bring their own laptops to participate. (60 minutes)

The deadline to submit a proposal is Friday, November 22nd.

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

Over the next few weeks, the e-Learning and Instructional Support Department (eLIS) will be publishing a series of interviews with author and Lesley University Professor  Joan Thormann, exploring topics in online learning design and facilitation.  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. The interviews were conducted by eLIS Instructional Designer Sarah Krongard.


Joan Thormann co-authored the book The Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Designing and Teaching Online Courses with her colleague Isa Kaftal Zimmerman.

What was your interest in writing this book?

Joan Thormann: I started teaching online in 1996, when there was no guidance available.  Distance learning did exist, but mostly involved mailings, videos and/or televised lectures.  There was very little happening with online learning, and not much research available — there was certainly no eLIS!  In 1996 I was asked to teach a course online and was given one sample syllabus.

Initially I learned about teaching online by trial and error.  I also learned from my students’ feedback.  Eventually – slowly but surely – research about teaching online started to appear.  So, I began to follow the research, as though I was writing my dissertation again.  I wanted to know more.  I wanted to know how other people dealt with online learning and how to make it better.  This is something I am always doing. Much of my own research has come from trying new things in my online classes.

I wrote The Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Designing and Teaching Online Courses because over the years, I learned so much and wanted to share my knowledge.  I didn’t want others to have to flounder in the same way I did.

Were you provided with any university-supported tools when you started teaching online?

Thormann: In the very beginning, Lesley provided a threaded online bulletin board system and email. That was it.   I spent most of my time and energy developing websites for my courses and updating materials.  There was no gradebook. The technology was very primitive. Therefore, when Blackboard appeared, I grumbled a bit because I had to jettison most of what I had built.  But after I got over my grumbling and adapted to using Blackboard, I could focus on course content and interacting with students rather than maintaining my course infrastructure.

In working with Blackboard, I began to realize the amount of time that I spent in the past on administrative work. Blackboard liberated me from this.  And even though I hear my colleagues complain about Blackboard, I appreciate this tool, since I worked in the “Dark Ages.” Despite its virtues I have found it necessary to create Blackboard workarounds when I feel Blackboard gets in the way.

Now there are many tools available within Blackboard such as wikis, blogs, journals, discussion forums, and the grade center.

What are some of your current specific research interests?

Thormann: My research generally revolves around the incorporation of pedagogical approaches for online teaching and student participation.  Each time I use a new tool or approach I do action research to find out how well it works.  I have done research on the use of Skype, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and student moderators. My research shows that all three of these approaches are viewed positively by my students.   I have presented my research at meetings and written articles about these topics.  There are also descriptions of it in my book. Currently, it seems that others find my work with student moderating the most interesting and useful.

To research student moderation, I sent out a survey asking students questions such as What were the most beneficial and least beneficial aspects of moderating?”  The students who responded to the surveys were very positive about student moderating.   I now use student moderators regularly in almost all the online classes I teach.

I learned that each time I added a new pedagogical element to my course, I want – and need – to check with students to find out if the new element is, in fact, something I should continue to incorporate.  I use my students as a gauge.  Both ongoing feedback and end of course evaluations also help guide my pedagogy and research.

My latest research involves incorporating UDL in online courses. My future research may focus on gender differences in participation in online courses.

Stay tuned for Part II of this series.

Getting Familiar with Inline Grading

Did you know that myLesley has a new way to grade assignments? It’s called inline grading. Inline grading greatly streamlines the old grading process and best of all – it saves you time!

What is Inline Grading?

Inline grading allows instructors to view and grade submitted assignments directly in myLesley. You no longer need to download your students’ assignments to your computer to assess their work. Now you can view, annotate, and grade student work directly in your myLesley course.


How Does it Work?

When you access a student’s submission in the Grade Center, myLesley will automatically load a preview of the submitted document. Simply click on the Comment button to open the annotation tools and interface.

annotation sample

Within the new grading interface you can create notes on specific areas of the document by highlighting sections of text and using the Comment button. The pencil tool can be used to draw in a freeform manner on the document as you might with a paper and pen offline.

Click on the Assignment Details link in the right-hand sidebar to reference the assignment requirements. If you use the Rubric tool, you can access and use your rubric from the Attempt section.

If you wish to provide additional suggestions or notes outside of the submitted document, type your message to the student in the Grader Feedback area.


Once you have finished grading your student’s submission, you have the option of downloading a PDF version (with all your newly created annotations) which you can save for your records.

Inline grading works with PDF’s, Word documents, Powerpoints and Excel files. If a student submits a different type of file such as an image file, you will be prompted to download the file to your computer exactly as you have done in the past.

What Does This Mean For My Students?

Students can also view their annotated and graded assignment directly in myLesley. Their view is very similar to the instructor’s interface. Students can also view any additional feedback you may have provided and download the annotated PDF with all of your comments to save for their records.

Please note that there are no changes to the way students submit their assignments. Also, as before, they can view and retrieve their graded assignments in one of two ways: by going back to the original assignment location or by accessing the MyGrades area.

How Can I Learn More?

For more information on how to use inline grading in myLesley, check out this overview or view the video tutorial.