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googleplusReina Ichii lectures units in Development Economics, Microfinance and Development, Aid Adjustment, Development and Cultural Business Practice in Asia. These are part of undergraduate degrees in International Studies and postgraduate degrees in International Development in the school of Global, Urban and Social Studies. She uses a lot of contemporary online practice to help solve the problems of delivering at distance and modelling practice to students.

Do you use Blackboard?
Yes because we are told we have to. I put announcements there as well as course materials readings and Powerpoint slides when available. I also use the course wiki to form groups. When students do a group presentation, they go to the course wiki and identify regions of interest. I put their email address so that students can then contact each other using uni email. The next time I do this I will use Google Docs and I can post it to the Google Community.  Finally in Blackboard I use the grade centre for assessment.

I use Blackboard Collaborate if I teach both face-to-face and online together. Online students in a similar time zone can join in and asks questions. Both groups can benefit from each other. Blackboard Collaborate records my powerpoint slides, my talk, students discussion and chat room discussions, which helps students who cannot attend the physical class or attend online.

What other tools do you use?
Google Forms, Docs, Drives, Communities and Hangout. Also YouTube. YouTube is for students to upload their group presentations in a shared course account. Also I can upload my podcasts to YouTube.

For the course blog I use WordPress. The main assessment involves critical reflective writing. I blog from my experience in developing countries. I use it as an individual example as well as for providing relevant practical information.  Also our program has a WordPress blog which is also an example for students.

I don’t use much email.

How does Blogging Help?
Students can select topics in their own blogs according to assignment tasks. Blogging gives them the flexibility to choose topics and do their own research. They can manage all the content and they love the flexibility. As lecturers we can’t teach everything. In our subject area we are dealing with the whole world. In order to manage different needs and expectations blogging helps students to develop their own learning areas and interests. Also, blogging enables us to collaborate with students in different learning modes – face-to-face and online. Usually students can’t see their peers’ writing when delivering learning via traditional methods but they can with blogs. Thus, they get more information and knowledge on the course topics. From these assignment tasks, I learn how to step back! Previously I needed to pretend I knew all these international examples; but if I haven’t been to those countries and face with practical issues how can I sound authentic? Now all I need to do is to teach a process and not much content. I teach them how to do a blog; and how to use it to make a case for what they know or want to research. It’s then all about sharing information. They comment on each others’ work. Or even better one of my students was really excited to get a comment from outside the classroom.

So you are placing them in a global context?
Yes. I also lecture as an RMIT partner arrangement into a core postgraduate course at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Bangkok. It is part of an 8 day intensive in June. This year there was 29 students from 14 countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Cambodia, Iran and Myanmar. These students love their blogs. Unlike a lot of students these are already tech savvy. Because the university there doesn’t have many facilities, they always have to use their own laptop. Once I teach them how to blog and use Pinterest they become so enthused. There are differences between onshore and offshore. In our RMIT program there are two students aged over 60, 80 % are female and one-third are living overseas. Usually they have come from full time work. They tend to care more about appearances so they prefer WordPress, whereas at the AIT they need it easy and prefer blogger. At AIT the students need to use their own private Google logins to receive shared Google Docs via Google Drives from me. Because I am a visiting faculty, I do not have access to their Learning Management System like Blackboard in RMIT. Everything in Google happens with their own private account. Their internet system is sometimes too slow or complicated or is having outages due to power supply issues.

You also use Google Plus Communities
All of the current students are now in the Google Plus Community. It’s all fine once they get past opting in to the new Google apps. I ask students where they prefer to receive announcements. They prefer Google Plus Communities over Blackboard because they can get mobile phone notification via Google App. Blackboard then becomes just a backup. I use the Google Plus Community for announcements, rubrics, group discussions, fielding questions. And also I use the event function to schedule online discussion sessions with students via Google Hangout on Air. Students can communicate within a group task. As well in the community we share tech tips. I place Google Forms for peer evaluation and provide podcasts of lecture content. Students share links to their Presi presentations and initially share introduction videos. There is also embed links of some relevant YouTube materials.

At the moment I am just using Communities with elective courses which means I can keep the groups small. I will be running a core course next semester and it will be interesting to see how students behave. Some of my colleagues are more careful for introducing new technology to students. They want to see everything work first and see an example. I don’t have time to test the process. I need to take risks and work by trial and error. We don’t have a lot of support for these new initiatives. Teaching online courses takes more time than teaching face-to-face courses. However, we get asked to use more online technology to increase online students enrollment. We can’t always wait until everything is available in order to provide what our students need.

Because I am permanent staff,  I can take a risk. Casual staff may not take risks all the time because students’ course evaluation is used as a benchmark of our teaching performance. Some online students appreciate my challenge introducing online technology in class. One of the students told me that in previous online courses they feel like they are treated as a second-class citizen; but now they feel they are becoming a real citizen.

Being selected for a Global Learning by Design project is nice. It gives us many opportunities including collaboration between our program faculty, SLC learning advisors, program liaison librarians and DSC education developers. And fortunately our Deputy Dean of Teaching and, Learning and Program Director are very supportive of me introducing new technologies in class.