Some Tips for How to Work Collaboratively Online

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

This lesson was designed as a part of the MiddCORE summer 2020 and winter 2021 online cohorts. The program has always involved extensive collaborative group work, however doing this work completely online and across multiple time zones posed a new challenge. As many educators have pointed out, it is essential to provide some scaffolding and support when beginning any group-work. Too often we assume that people know how to collaborate and what we expect of them in our group work challenges. These assumptions become even more problematic when we are not physically in the same space to hear and see challenges that might be presenting themselves as groups collaborate in real time. The lesson below was designed to help support this process and give students a window into the process of “teaming online”.

The Set Up

We began this work with a reflective task that asked students to consider the way in which they prefer to work, strengths that they will bring to the group, and other information that team members should know about them. 

In Class (live) Activity

MiddCORE is still largely built on students meeting synchronously via Zoom, so the team invited me to work with the group on learning how to “team online”. Prior to the session all students were asked to complete the reflective task and bring it with them to the session. 

At the beginning of the session I introduced myself and explained my experience with working as a part of a remote team and the impact of the pandemic on our work processes. I worked to frame the discussion as not just occurring because of the pandemic, but that the impacts were definitely amplified because of our current situation. One of my goals was to make the connection that in a globalized society, it will only become more and more common for remote teams to need to learn how to work together effectively and efficiently.

Next I explained several “learnings” that I had accumulated over my time working as a part of a remote team. These considerations/topics included:

(You can click on each item to view a brief video overview of the topic.)

Some of these points directly connect to the reflective task students were asked to complete, so before breaking into groups I referred to these connections and the importance of recognizing and owning your own needs, strengths, quirks, etc. when attempting to work as a part of a team. (See point #2 in this article “Create an equitable distribution of labor and assure students that you, not they, are responsible for this aspect of the collaboration”)

The Task

I then explained that students were going to work together in their teams to establish a team agreement that would guide their work. In order to establish a successful team agreement students needed to ensure that all voices were heard in their meeting and I encouraged them to share info from their reflections to determine the best way for them to work together based on all of their individual needs and preferences. 

Before breaking into break out rooms I paused to ask for any questions, and then explained the time limit for the break out rooms, the expectation for what would be completed during that time, and how could they ask for help if they needed it. 

The Wrap Up

With 5 – 10 minutes left of class, all students returned to the main room so that we could recap how things went. We discussed general questions and whether any group felt stuck or significantly challenged in setting up their team agreement. Students were reminded they could also touch base with the faculty member or program managers if they felt like they needed additional assistance with their group. It’s important for students to know that there is help if things are really not going well in their group.

Learn more – here are some articles and resources that inspired the structure of this lesson:

The Wide World of WordPress Themes

Over the last few months I’ve been fortunate enough to get to dabble in WordPress quite a bit. I’ve take the opportunity to investigate what some of the themes can do and how I can maximize their potential for different end goals. Here are just a few of the sites (and a PowerPoint slide design thrown in for good measure.) I’ve been working on in addition to this one.

CTLR J-term Programming

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CTLR Tallmadge Event

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Library Newsletter Template

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Not a WordPress Site – PowerPoint Design

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Tweaking the WordPress Theme

At the end of last year I was asked to assist with a WordPress site for a series of sessions that was being presented by our Center for Teaching Learning and Research. It turned into a pretty fun experience as I chose a theme and begin designing around the content. In the end – all functioned as we’d hoped, but we did run into a few challenges that required me to tweak the theme a bit. In essence, (like many WordPress sites) I felt like I was manipulating the platform to do what I wanted vs. what it was intended to do (i.e. It’s a blogging platform but I want to create a WEB SITE!)

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 10.17.16 AM

Here’s what I learned:

  • Sometimes you won’t find a theme limitation until your content is fully loaded. In our instance the theme organizes content on the main screen based on timing (which I could control) and block size (which I could only slightly control based on text). This resulted in two events being out of order.
  • Being able to manipulate CSS can be the key to success! This was the only way I was able to remove the blog date from the posts. This was confusing since the blog date was different than the event date.
  • You can’t please everyone with design, but getting feedback as you move through the process allows you to at least be somewhat confident that you haven’t completely missed the mark. Each piece of critical feedback always hits me hard but I try to hide that from everyone because it’s what makes my designs better. Being able to absorb, analyze and process feedback without taking it personally is a growth process. Finding your voice to disagree with feedback and provide counter points is a whole other lesson that I’m slowly growing into as I become more confident in my design choices.
  • Creating something feels really good. It’s been a long time since art class for this technologist but being able to create something that others respond to is a meaningful exercise and one I hope to do more and more.

 

Tech Sessions

Below is a listing of the tech sessions/classes that I have taught:

iMovie

Fall 2013, for ENAM 1272A: Lit & Philosophy of Friendship (Professor Billings)

Fall 2013, for EDST 0305A: Elementary Literacy and Social Studies (Professor Hoyler)

Audacity

J-term 2014, for RUSS 0202A: Intermediate Russian (Professor Wieda)

Final Cut Pro

Spring 2014, for ART 0164A: Sculpture and Video (Professor Huddleston)

Twine

Spring 2014, for FMMC 0282A: Videogames: Art/Culture/Medium (Professor Mittell)

Wikipedia Tutorial

Fall 2013, for NSCI 0100A: Introduction to Neuroscience (Professors Cronise and Root)

WordPress

Fall 2013, for FYSE 1041A: Economics of Social Issues (Professor Holmes)

Fall 2013, for FYSE 1286A: Keys to Dan Brown’s Inferno (Professor Beyer)

Fall 2013, for FYSE 1401A: Bad Kids (Professor Tiger)

Spring 2014, for ENAM 0323A: Cinematic Movement: Poetry (Professor Van Jordan)

Google Sites (Google Apps for Education)

Spring 2010, Hannaford Career Center in-service for teachers

 

Annotating Texts to Deepen Meaning

CV Starr Professor of Russian & East European Studies Tom Beyer is no stranger to utilizing technology in the classroom. During the summer of 2013 Tom approached the digital media tutor program to see if we could assist with transitioning content from an existing Wetpaint site to another platform.

See the video below to learn more about the project and process involved.

 

Tracking Lab Stats: My First Infographic

My first infographic

Make room on the fridge – I’ve got something to post! Today I felt like I finally had success working on an infographic workflow. This has been a hot topic with the digital media tutors and one I’ve been trying to figure out through a variety of methods. My goals were:

  1. Locate a design component that was relatively easy to use and did not require a steep learning curve.
  2. Being able to output the result in a format that students could take with them. (One of my goals with everything digital!)
  3. Integrating data sets from Excel
  4. Being able to interact with the data would be frosting on the cupcake – but I wasn’t counting on that one. (Spoiler alert – I got FROSTING!)

So what did I do/try?

Thanks to one of our super librarians (thanks Brenda!!) I was notified that Lynda.com had a group of tutorials on infographics. I set to work watching and settled on “Creating Infographics with Illustrator”. Using the graphing function within Illustrator I was able to come up with the primitive version below….

My first attempt using Illustrator's graphing capabilities

My first attempt using Illustrator’s graphing capabilities

Did I mention that I’m not a designer? Ok – good, just checking. 😉 So although I found this quasi-functional, it seemed to require a higher level of design expertise to incorporate multiple infographic elements. (As a side note I thought it would be a cool idea to try to make the graph at the bottom of the page mimic the Green Moutains with the time starbursts starting as sun in the morning and moving to a moon at night. However, I quickly determined that was going to take more time that I feasibly could devote to trying to figure something out. It did sound like fun though.)

My next stop? Piktochart! I noticed this tool being used in the lab this semester by a few students and it was already on my radar from a few posts here and here. (Thank you Edudemic!)

I had already crunched the numbers by exporting the data collected on a Google SS via a Google form to an Excel spreadsheet, so I had segregated and totaled the data that I was targeting. Piktochart offers a few free templates, however I decided to go with a blank template to see how difficult it was to start from scratch. By adding blocks I was able to create different sections of data and a header for the chart. Since my main focus was data manipulation my end product is very chart heavy b/c I wanted to see how the different types of charts displayed on the screen. Curious what this non-designer, multi-color loving, tech-tinkerer created? Check it out below. BONUS – I was able to embed it in my WordPress blog using iframes…although I’m not sure how stable this method is. (Functions on hosted WordPress NOT on WordPress.com.) :’-)

It’s not perfect – I know, but it does represent what I think is a workable workflow that does not require a learning curve the size of the Grand Canyon…or even Middlebury gap for that matter. It’s do-able, interactive (5 stars there) and web based; which are all items that I think will be seen as beneficial. But I’m still curious.

Are you helping students to create infographics? What tips do you have to share?